Energy citizenship, what does it mean across different regions of Europe? We investigate this through four local language workshops in Spain (Galicia), Belgian Wallonia, Germany, and Hungary. We explored energy citizenship (ENCI) with NGOs, governmental organizations, activists, entrepreneurs and researchers with a good knowledge of the social-political particularities of the local context. These regional ‘translation’ workshops provide our ENCI explorations with concreteness, and with a ‘sense of place’. This first blog of the series focuses on the Walloon ENCI workshop, held on Friday, 3 December 2021 (online).


In French, the main language spoken in Wallonia, energy citizenship translates as "citoyenneté énergétique". This term is hardly used. Nevertheless, the participants all had an idea of what it could cover. "Energy citizenship" evoked a wild variety of associations.


Within this word cloud we find three clusters of energy citizenship interpretations, each marked with a different colour: 1) The acting citizen, 2) Energy literacy and awareness, and 3) Sustainable, just, and democratic energy transition.

1. Citizen actor: For many participants, "energy citizenship" involves a paradigm shift in the role of the citizen. No longer "just a consumer" or an "EAN code on the electricity network", ENCI indicates citizens that are instead "an actor in the same way as the other political and economic actors in society". Workshop participants distinguished citizen agency at two levels: a) in the production, transformation, and consumption of energy, and b) in the policy- and decision-making processes on energy issues. In this sense, the citizen is seen as an actor in energy transition. A participant explained that energy transition is no longer "a matter of energy professionals like those of Engie or others", citizens being equally "capable to develop wind farms or other alternative energy sources". Alongside this idea of the "acting citizen", participants also associated ENCI with "(active) participation", "re-involvement", "reappropriation" and the "taking control" of citizens.

2. Energy literacy and awareness: Some participants underlined that knowledge and understanding of energy issues, but also an awareness of individual consumption practices, are a prerequisite for citizens’ active roles in the energy transition. A participant explained that with "information" and a better "understanding of the situation", the citizen "can intervene better and better play his role as an actor". He emphasized the importance of the "search for knowledge" – which again evokes this idea of the citizen as a resourceful agent, rather than as a passive receiver of information. A striking theme in the discussions was the importance given to the "education" and instruction provided to the next generations of energy citizens. In the same vein, another participant mentioned the necessity to "increase the level of knowledge" of citizens "so that they can better manage their energy needs, energy savings...".

3. Sustainable, just, and democratic energy transitions: Several participants consider energy citizenship as a component of a transition towards a more sustainable, just, and democratic energy system. Energy citizenship is seen as a part of a broader  sustainability transition in that it "aims to create new economic models, new ways of living together compatible with a sustainable future for the generations to come". More specifically, a participant mentioned the role of energy citizenship in facing "energy and climate challenges". Some participants also evoked the social objective of energy citizenship, namely, to promote "equity", "justice", "social links" and "social cohesion", and to reduce energy poverty[1]. A participant explained that "it is about escaping from the dominant techno-economic model, and from the market to focus on all the social aspects, (...) [including] the question of fuel poverty which is behind it". Finally, energy citizenship is seen as a component of a transition aimed at moving from a representative democracy "where people can vote for their supplier" to a participatory democracy. In connection with the idea of democratic transition, some participants mentioned those of "democratic governance" and "transparency". ENCI is seen to form part of various kinds of transitions!

[1] With more than one in four households suffering from fuel poverty, guaranteeing access to energy services for all is a particularly important challenge in Wallonia (source: Fondation Roi Baudouin).

This exploration of ENCI with Wallon practitioners and experts unfold how ENCI is a concept with many facets. It also shows how the fairly unknown concept does resonate with many ideals and visions of more sustainable and desirable futures. Discussing concrete examples, it is striking however that participants’ understanding of ENCI was generally tied to the empowered, informed and initiative-taking citizens and organizations. The passive, disempowered, and perhaps less enlightened forms of ENCI were rather absent in the discussions, except for the various initiatives to empower disadvantaged citizens. At least in the first instance, ENCI tended to be equated indeed with what we described as the ‘manifest’ forms of ENCI: the energy cooperatives, the energy communities and the energy activism movements. But the recently escalated conflict with Europe’s main energy supplier raises further questions. As all Europeans are now practically forced to take on some kind of energy citizenship – how could it develop and spread beyond the frontrunners in the energy transition? How can it build on the ENCI empowerment and ENCI education structures that are already present in Wallonia and in other regions?

Read more about the regional workshops