Decentralisation, devolution… Revolution!

In the course of the past few decades, new players have entered the energy management arena, in what could be characterised as a new era of “community power”. Everywhere across Europe and beyond, local authorities have been playing a key role, not only as protagonists but also as facilitators of a new energy model.

lthough this trend is spreading in various countries, the most emblema-tic examples can be found in Germany, where numerous local authorities and their citizens have reclaimed ownership of the local grids, previously controlled by large corporate utilities. Through a process of “re-municipalisation”, a large number of municipal utilities (Stadtwerke) has been created to tap into local renewables and improve energy efficiency. In Scandinavian countries, cities have also taken a great degree of control over their energy sources. Elsewhere across the continent, the case for devolution and decentralised energy management is resonating loudly, with European neighbours keen to follow the German example.

Wind of change blowing in the UK

“Devo met” and “devo max” were two keywords appearing very often in the UK media in 2014, calling for a devolution of national competencies to metropolitan areas alongside the “maximum devolution” to be granted to Scotland in the wake of the inde-pendence referendum. Among other things, this shift of power from central government to cities and regions is tou-ted as a way to unleash “metro growth”. Jargon aside, this movement notably calls for public spending and tax raising powers for the UK’s local authorities.

On the energy front, such a decentra-lised approach could bring countless benefits to UK citizens. In Scotland for example, the subnational government has put its land use planning competency to good use as the region now enjoys the largest proportion of renewable energy development in the UK! A growing number of the country’s NGOs and think tanks are thus calling for active participation by local councils in the energy sector.

According to the IPPR (Institute for Public Policy Research), cities are Britain’s new “powerhouses”. The think tank advocates they should play a greater role in the supply market, currently dominated by six multi-national corporations (British Gas, EDF Energy, E.ON UK, npower, Scottish Power and SSE). In a context of growing distrust towards these “Big Six” energy companies, UK citizens are even more inclined to welcome their local authorities’ new role of energy suppliers. As they are directly accountable to their citizens, local mayors also take the politically charged issue of fuel poverty very seriously. Not only can they help their residents access lower energy tariffs through collective bargaining with sup-pliers, but some city councils in the UK are also looking at opportunities to create their own energy services companies, as has been done in Bristol.

The IPPR report also shows that, on top of lower energy bills, locally-engineered micro-generation can deliver local jobs and skills development opportunities, while creating new revenue streams for cash-strapped local governments. Besides engaging in the supply markets, cities are championing large scale energy efficiency solutions and empowering citizens to take ownership of the energy transition. Local councils can indeed provide tailored support to their communities for the deployment of sustainable energy projects, acting as catalysts of the energy transition as they are best placed to address the expectations of local households and businesses. 
Point taken, dear Prime minister?

© photo: shutterstock


Publication date

June 4, 2015