The art of muddling through: spatial planning conditions for citizen energy communities

Ina Horlings, Ferry van Kann, Diogo Soares da Silva

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This essay focuses on the energy transition as a relevant issue for
spatial planning as it has large spatial implications. Particularly against the background of climate change, there is an urgent call for a fundamental change of our energy system. Part of this change is a growing role for citizen initiatives that collectively focus on renewable energy, referred to in this paper as citizen energy communities (CECs). While the role of citizens in energy transition has been discussed in different disciplines, and regional scientists have reflected on citizen participation in community energy production, the role of spatial planning in supporting these bottom-up processes deserves more scholarly attention.

We aim to answer the key question: What are spatial planning conditions
for energy transition driven by CECs in different institutional contexts? To understand and illustrate these conditions, we use a comparative study of three case studies in three different countries, the Netherlands, Wales (UK), and Portugal. Based on an empirical study and a literature review, which include an analysis of the dilemmas and socio-spatial (mis)matches in the field of energy, we provide recommendations for favourable planning conditions supporting CECs. The results show that CECs build new institutional arrangements and coalitions.
The analysis of the cases underpins that the specific geography, the institutional context and involvement of relevant stakeholders are key factors to take into account. Finally, we conclude that in order CECs to flourish, spatial planning should 1) balance top-down goals and area-specific implementation, 2) consider temporality (including long-term visioning and short-term incrementalism or 'muddling through') and 3) pay attention to the impact of the energy transition on multiple spatial scales.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages29
Publication statusPublished - 26-Jan-2023

Publication series

NameEssay Series Transitions in Planning: Challenges of the 21th Century for Dutch Spatial Planning


  • energy transition
  • energy initiatives
  • community
  • decentralisation
  • area-specific planning


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