Energy democracy: Ensuring electricity to all

Energy access is a recognised key struggle for justice in the world. The concept of ‘energy democracy’ hence can be the next tipping point to improve the quality of life for the world’s most disadvantaged and poor

Around one-third of the global population does not have access to electricity. Still, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 7 – a call for action to improve “access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all” – is an aspiration. If we focus on extending the electrical grid, as we have in the past, we are not on track to meet the goal.

So, energy access is a recognised key struggle for justice in the world, driven by a number of immediate causes, most obviously the rising bills, falling incomes and poor housing. Highlighting these key factors, we are struggling with the energy security, which is a link between national security and the availability of natural resources for energy consumption. In this backdrop, the concept of “energy democracy” can be the next tipping point to improve the quality of life for the world’s most disadvantaged and poor.

Over the last half decade the concept of energy democracy has gained traction as many organisations have been expressing concern about generation and equal distribution

of energy.

Energy democracy means that everybody is ensured access to sufficient energy. This concept aims to make community residents innovators, planners and decision-makers on how to create and use energy that is local and


Energy production must thereby neither pollute the environment nor harm the people. Making energy solutions more democratic means locals can make places environmentally healthier and reduce mounting electricity costs so that families can take better care of their needs and help mitigate the effects of climate change. This means that fossil fuel resources must be left in the ground, which means production needs to be socialised and democratised; and we must rethink our overall attitude towards energy consumption.

Energy democracy in action has traditionally been located at the small-scale through the distributed-energy technologies and the community renewable energy co-operatives. However, more recent years have opened up new possibilities for energy democracy at both the rural and urban level.

For example, micro-grids can provide an electricity-deprived citizen with power – and the ability to create income. This pathway to power delivery is a disruptive force that will forever change the relationship between electricity user and producer.

These decentralised energy systems give households the ability to negotiate directly with energy entrepreneurs and access electricity on a pay-as-you-go basis.

For example in Bangladesh, the solar home system is praiseworthy, where over four million solar home systems have been distributed over the last five years. About 150     megawatts of electricity is now going to close to 20 million people now; however, the aim was to generate 220 megawatts of electricity by 2017 through the solar home system program.

The use of solar energy in irrigation is also remarkable in Bangladesh. Already, over 600 solar irrigation pumps have been installed in Bangladesh and it plans to set up more than 1,500 pumps within 2018.

The concept of energy democracy in many places is also closely associated with the expansion of local initiatives, such as small-scale cooperatives, that generate and distribute electricity based on renewable sources.

Individuals can invest in the co-operatives to fund new renewable energy production or consumers who buy power from the co-operatives.

Energy generated is usually sold back to the national grid, although the possibility for local energy markets is now opening up. In countries where community energy has flourished, this has largely been due to “feed in tariffs”: subsidies to offer co-operatives a generous rate for the energy they sell to the grid.

Energy co-operatives are rapidly multiplying across the globe, allowing millions of people to become active producers of the energy they use.

Co-operatives are still, in a sense, a form of private control; while they often decide to re-invest substantial proportions of their revenues in social and environmental causes and the local economy.

However, co-operatives remain one important alternative to corporate control.

Consequently, we need to prioritise more decentralised energy systems like microgrids amid the energy co-operatives to provide different levels of service for our unique needs.

In fact, the concept of energy democracy considers energy as both fossil fuels and renewables is not simply a commodity to be bought and sold. It is part of the commons – a precious global resource that must be respected, conserved and equitably shared.

We are yet to change our perception about energy access embracing the low-cost clean-energy solutions. However, the promises of energy sector decentralisation as a democratic force should neither be underestimated nor ignored for long.

A democratic energy system directs benefits and control back to local communities. Energy democracy hence is a concept that aims not only to stem the tide of climate change but also fight energy poverty by ensuring electricity to all in a cleaner manner.

Naeen, a communication graduate from University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh, is a freelance journalist at Climate Tracker