Infrastructuring Energy as a Common

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By Andrea Capaccioli, Giacomo Poderi, Mela Bettega et al.

"With the ongoing energy paradigm shift toward smart grids, we can also conceive energy, and renewable energies in particular, as a common good managed as Common Pool Resources (CPR). The challenge according to Dietz et al. is to design institutional arrangements to help set the required conditions or tackle the challenges related to governance where the ideal conditions are not present: this is still the case of enabling the management of renewable energies as CPRs. Thus, within this scenario there is the need not only for an enabling technology to be imposed (such as in the dominant technology-driven view toward energy transition), but a socio-technical approach that takes into account the communities and the users to foster the creation of social acceptance of this new system. Nowadays, most actors who support the actual highly centralized energy system (e.g. energy companies, authorities and regulations) do not fit into this possible future community energy scenario, where generation is distributed through smaller renewable energy plants and where the energy network is becoming highly decentralized and locally controlled. Both the institutional energy infrastructure and the physical one have been in place for decades and highly embedded in our lives. Smart-grid opens up the possibility of challenging the present condition in order to create an alternative by integrating the existing energy network with ICTs, generating new information. The electric grid becomes an information infrastructure. The design and the implementation of such a thing define the power relations among the actors: citizens with a more decentralized network can have the possibility of sharing more control in terms of managing the energy source. That is why the involvement of communities plays a central role in the concrete design of the needed technologies to foster new sustainable practices. The focus on the community level of management is also seen as a way to increase the possibilities of reaching the critical mass that would have an impact on the energy transition goals [10]. The transition toward a community based energy paradigm, where distributed renewable energies are managed as CPRs, can be supported and encouraged by the PD community by enabling and fostering the “commoning practices”. It becomes central to the role of the design process that needs to take place at a community-based level, as a process: for, with and by communities themselves.


"Energy is a key factor for societies, and its abundance in the last centuries is one of the factors that led to the impressive development of our society since the industrial revolution, but it is also a factor for all the major environmental downsides that we are now facing. The infrastructuring of collective actions for energy management, as explored and presented by experiences described in this paper, has provided an example for imagining an alternative future going “beyond capital”. The communities participating are fully aware of the impact of climate change and they want to take a stand with concrete actions. They are helped by the cooperative values, which are embedded in the history of the consortia and widely spread among the members and their communities. They can base their participation in the community energy management upon an existing socio-technical context already based on different values rather than only an economic one. The existent electric infrastructure, which is already in place and hardly modifiable without hard intervention, can be modelled and adapted to the local social context by the means of ICTs, opening new possibilities. The PD community can help experiences like these to design a sustainable alternative, creating new relationships among the actors involved. This creates a space for citizens’ participation in a continuous process of design for energy management. An important question that emerged from the activities described in the paper was how to make this space sustainable in the future for citizens and communities who want to control their energy. The deployment phase and the evaluation of the process at the end of the project could bring more insights about the issues of sustainability and appropriation of energy as CPR. So, the answers will arrive from the citizens participating in imagining their own possible future." (