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A. Crighton Master's Thesis


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A. Crighton Master's Thesis

  1. 1. The (Dis)empowerment of CEIs in Ireland Ali Crighton I6275223 Master’s Sustainability Science, Policy, and Society 2022
  2. 2. Table of Contents: 1. Introduction a. What are CEIs? b. The concept of empowerment 2. Research Aims a. Relevance b. Research Questions 3. Methodology a. Research design and process b. Theoretical framework 4. Research Findings a. Support Network Map b. State of (dis)empowerment c. Drivers of (dis)empowerment 5. Recommendations 6. Conclusion a. Limitations and suggestions b. Implications 7. Bibliography
  3. 3. What are ‘Community Energy Initiatives’? Locally-embedded citizen groups leading the energy transition in their local area, via ownership and participation in RE generation, management, distribution and efficiency (Friends of the Earth Ireland, 2014) 1. Introduction The Case of Ireland: - Early stages but rapidly evolving - SEC Network - Growing attention - Structural barriers
  4. 4. The Concept of Empowerment Academic definition Participants’ understanding 1. Introduction
  5. 5. Relevance of the Research 2. Research Aims Success of CEIs More empowered CEIs facilitates expansion and development Are the intentions of the State translating in practice? CEIs are not inherently just/good Power is a key element of the socio-technical energy transition Centralised to decentralised Not yet studied in the context of Ireland In line with ERSS research combining social science and climate research 01 03 02 04
  6. 6. Research Questions How can CEIs in Ireland be better empowered (in policy and practice)? RQ1: State of (dis)empowerment RQ2: Evolution overtime RQ3: Driving factors RQ4: Potential solutions 2. Research Aims
  7. 7. Research Design and Process Research design: ● Social constructivism and qualitative approach Research process: 1. Literature review 2. Research sample: six CEIs and two support-bodies (SEC and CEFI) 3. Semi-structured interviews 4. Data analysis 5. Formulation of support-network map and recommendations 3. Methodology
  8. 8. Theoretical Framework The levels and drivers of community empowerment in the context of the energy transition from Coy et al., 2021 3. Methodology
  9. 9. Support Network Map 4. Research Findings
  10. 10. State of Empowerment in Irish CEIs 4. Research Findings
  11. 11. Drivers of (Dis)empowerment in Irish CEIs 4. Research Findings
  12. 12. Tailor to risk appetite and capacity Self-determined motivation Facilitate tangible impacts SEC Energy Master Plan Community-level support Recommendations for Policy and Practice Internal and external social ties 5. Recommendations 01 03 04 06 02 05
  13. 13. 1 Methodology Data triangulation Mixed Methods e.g., survey 3 Interview design Face-to-face and workshops 2 Sample Larger sample and more than one from each CEI 4 Interpersonal and societal factors Limitations and Suggestions 6. Conclusion
  14. 14. 01 02 03 04 05 Burnout Concerns over long- term viability Room for improvement State of empowerment could be improved Collaboration CEIs circumventing government may be undesirable for the Energy Transition Personalisation needed Factors work differently for each CEI Structural barriers Same for over a decade Implications and Contribution 6. Conclusion
  15. 15. Thank you for listening and for the support
  16. 16. Coy, D., Malekpour, S., Saeri, A. K., & Dargaville, R. (2021). Rethinking community empowerment in the energy transformation: A critical review of the definitions, drivers and outcomes. Energy Research & Social Science, 72, Article 101871. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1016/j.erss.2020.101871 Friends of the Earth Ireland. (2014). Community Energy Policy Position Paper. https://www.foe.ie/assets/files/pdf/supporting_communities_in_renewable_energy.pdf 7. Bibliography

Notas do Editor

  • CEIs
    locally-embedded citizen groups in leading the energy transition in their local area, via ownership and participation in RE generation, management, distribution and efficiency (Friends of the Earth Ireland, 2014).
    The energy transition refers to current shifts in the way we generate, use and store energy, to switch reliance from fossil-fuel based sources to renewable energy (RE) sources (Zou et al., 2016).

    Most CEIs in ROI are in stages of awareness raising, energy efficiency. The key aspect is that it has the core purpose of transitioning the local energy system to one of lower reliance on fossil fuels
    SEC Network - EMP
    Growing academic attention: Main papers - Watson etc. - most others focusing on social acceptance of RE and structural barriers
    Main structural barriers: gaining planning permission and access to the energy grid, as well as regulatory and policy barriers, a lack of adequate support, and financing issues - Comhar 2011, NESC 2014
    Also in Doyle 2021, Watson et al., 2020: Non-technical barriers: NIMBYism, community engagement, habit change, burnout, stress
    Watson et al., 2020: second-order transformational research between 2015-2018
    Many new CEIs have emerged since
    Empowerment has not received much attention academically

  • Academic definition: “the process of an individual, group or community increasing their capacity and contextual power to meet their own goals, leading to their transformative action” - Coy 2021
  • Why study empowerment?
    Aim of this thesis: to attain a deeper understanding of the ways in which the expansion, development, and success of CEIs in Ireland, can be supported and enhanced, in policy and practice.
    It has not been studied in the context of CEIs in Ireland - and the government has stated its intention to empower Irish CEIs (DCENR, 2015) - does it translate into practice
    Based on literature: more empowered actors will yield more successful CEIs
    Empowering citizens is in line with the socio-technical transition away from a centralised energy system (power is a key part of the transition)
    A deeper look into how key actors perceive CEIs - because they are not inherently good or just (Creamer et al., 2019)
    In line with the Literature combining social science and climate research (energy research specifically ERSS) Sovacool, 2014
    Wamsler et al., 2021 - the internal dimensions as a leverage for change.

  • (ii) RQ1: What is the state of (dis)empowerment in Irish CEIs?
    (iii) RQ2: How (and why) does the state of (dis)empowerment in CEIs differ and change overtime?
    (iv) RQ3: What are the factors contributing to the (dis)empowerment of Irish CEIs, based on the
    perspective of CEI members, a representative lobbyist organization, and a third-sector body?
    (v) RQ4: Which solutions may better empower CEIs, based on the perspective of CEI members, a
    representative lobbyist organization, and a third-sector body?

  • Research design and process
    a social constructivist ontology and a qualitative approach. This is due to the nature of (dis)empowerment as a complex, subjective and contextual social phenomenon which implies that human-beings are the carriers of valuable knowledge for the aims of the research (Moses & Knutsen, 2019; Offermans & Glasbergen, 2017).
    subjective observation and interpretation with the highly contextualized knowledge and data that will be collected from interviewees’ perceptions (Offermans & Glasbergen, 2017).

    Research process:
    Academic Literature review, reports, grey literature
    Databases: Greenfile, Web of Science, EBSCO, Google Scholar
    Key terms: energy citizenship, sustainability transitions, energy transition, community empowerment, and community energy.
    Conversations with key authors
    Research sample decided: most-developed CEIs and representatives from CEI support network
    Six CEIs
    Two support bodies: one community-based, one government based.
    Source: desk research and literature
    Diverse comparative perspective
    The sample size was relatively small because the outcome does not seek statistical significance but a more narrative-based understanding, and the saturation point was reached.
    Semi-structured interviews for data collection until saturation
    Approx 1 hr
    Flexibility of interview guide
    Trust and rapport
    Data analysis:
    Audio-recording and transcription software
    Manual coding (Saldana, 2013) - codes represented levels and driver categories from the TF
    Progressive focusing - iterative fashion - refinement
    Thematic analysis: patterns were noted to identify most important themes.
    Data was used to create a support-network map and devise recommendations for policy and practice.
    Network map: inspired by Boyle et al., 2021 who studied different CEIs to this thesis - classification system based on Avelino and Wittmayer 2016.
  • Why Coy:
    To the best of my awareness, the only paper which synthesizes literature from many fields on the concept of empowerment and applies it to the context of the energy transition (most studies focus on sustainability transitions in general)
    They grounded it in Australian case studies - a need for further application

    Framework of Coy et al., 2021 combined with Social Psychology literature
    Little attention to psychology in their paper
    Psychology is important because it forms the bedrock of the behavioural elements of empowerment
    Avelino et al., 2020: the six psychological dimensions of empowerment

    The levels of empowerment
    Important because empowerment can have diff meanings for diff stakeholders.

    The drivers of empowerment
    Based on the BDM by Petit, 2019. Factors operate in multiple levels (categories) - the bold factors are added from social psychology and social science research
  • Results
    Only 6 support >2
    Third sector and state mostly
    Lacking: a community-level support body with a national basis (only TT CEFI and GAA)
    Relevance: previous lit showed the lack of support for CEIs in Ireland, a recent support network map had not been made, it was important to investigate who was supporting the participating CEIs because it is relevant to explain (dis)empowerment and change it
  • Data from interviews indicated that CEI members are mostly experiencing Agency to Autonomy levels of empowerment
    It evolves overtime in two ways: increasing experience and skills empowers them but accumulation of set-backs and structural barriers over time leads to a disempowering effect through burnout
    But overall, longer standing CEIs show higher levels compared to newer ones whose autonomy is limited by lack of skills, resources, funding, and experience.
    Evidence of power-shift level of empowerment in the way in which CEIs are sidestepping conventional routes. E.g., aiming to be fully independent financially and not rely on the national electricity grid to distribute energy. Some participants spoke about wanting to side-step the inertia and bureaucracy of government.
    Overall there is potential to reach higher levels of empowerment among CEIs

    The findings show that autonomy is lacking within CEIs due to structural barriers and dependence on insufficient external support. Through improving their autonomy, CEIs could be better empowered.
    There is a sense that the state is misusing communities. There may be a divergence in what different stakeholders perceive to be adequate empowerment.
    Some innovative, risk-neutral CEIs seek out routes to circumvent the government showing a process of self-empowerment. But mostly, CEIs are at the level in which autonomy is lacking but they do have agency
    Previous lit shows societal change can still occur at the agency level but this thesis indicated that the long-term viability could be in question since participants all expressed issues with burnout and overburden leading them to question continuing - an increase in autonomy would allow CEIs to act in alignment with their unique goals and act more creatively - this enhances ownership and enjoyment
    In conclusion, the research does not suggest that CEIs need to be 100% independent to feel empowered and contribute to the energy transition, but they should have the freedom and autonomy to act in alignment with their own goals and should be supported by non-hierarchical relationships with governing entities.

  • Incorporating data from all interviews with both CEI representatives and support-bodies.

    Enablers mostly on the community-level
    Barriers mostly on the policy and systems level

    Collective self-efficacy
    Plays out as both an enabler and barrier and is linked to CEI’s risk appetite and attitude.
    It is highly personal to CEIs and advises for personalised strategies
    Newer CEIs with lower sense of competency and risk appetite seem to be better empowered through a ‘start small’ approach
    But other CEIs are more risk-neutral and have a high sense of competence, they desire more independence and appear to actually be disempowered by the risk averse approach of governing entities which they felt blocks their goals
    Attitude: can-do versus defeatism - the findings show that collective self efficacy is increased when CEIs feel they have an impact on the specific meaning for their actions. It is not the scale or content that matters but the belief in their impact

    Burden and pressure - inadequate tangible outcomes - resilience appears to be lacking in the face of challenges

    Policy and systems
    Sense of being nudged by governing entities and blocked by structural barriers
    Sense that no level of motivation will lead to their goals
    Same barriers have been impeding CEIs for over a decade - based on previous research

    Social capital
    Many different forms of social capital were found to be empowering
    Ties within CEIs, between them and governing entities, and between CEIs and the community and CEIs themselves all were important.
  • Facilitate self-determined motivation
    unique goals - flexibility and creative expression
    E.g., SEC focus groups to co-create progress maps with clearly defined objectives e.g., X jobs created or No. of households upgraded
    E.g., EMP: should be more flexible and need for Post-EMP pathways e.g., mentor support and funding
    Energy Master Plan and the authorities
    Energy planning by community volunteers should be secondary to the work done by local authorities and statutory organisations, not a replacement for it
    Support: define the role of local authorities - a designated staff member for the purpose of collaborating with the SEC Network
    issues with external consultants who are not selected by the CEI but assigned to them - they should have the option to do it themselves or tender it to a consultant of their choice - more efficiency needed here
    EMP consultant panel training: currently the standard is reportedly low and CEI should be allowed to be actively involved in the EMP
    Huge financial admin hassle of being reimbursed for the consultant fees for the EMP - process could be simplified by having an EMP consultant panel and financing through the local authorities or LCDCs (local community development committees) - avoid burden on community to source funding upfront - an unnecessary waste of community good-will
    Risk appetite and volunteer capacity
    E.g., Register of Opps in the EMP is a generic list of potential actions, instead it should be a Climate Action Plan that is tailored to the CEI
    E.g., some don’t have the volunteer capacity to do the EMP - should be more flexible or optional
    But keep balance so that too much responsibility is not put on CEIs
    Facilitate tangible impacts
    Enhances collective self efficacy, keeps people engaged and prevents burnout
    E.g., EMP - high input but low tangible outcomes -> Funding SECs receive currently all used in EMP process to external consultants could be partially redirected toward community projects e.g., funding cost of preparing and submitting applications for gov schemes (paperwork) - there is a lack of funding for post-EMP
    E.g., community rooftop solar
    Internal and external social ties - esp with the support bodies - to counteract fragmentation
    E.g., engagement between Local Authorities staff and SEC mentors
    Not enough cross fertilisation from CEI to CEI - lessons can be shared - repetition of processes - inefficient e.g., completed EMPs should be shared
    An SEAI SEC HUB should be accessible to all e.g., for poster and press-release templates - channels for ongoing horizontal networking between SECs - peer learning
    Community-level support
    E.g., SEC Network could facilitate project coordinators at the community level who could help with gov scheme and grants applications - by providing training and a ringfenced project coordinator fund
    Or room for CEFI / GAA / TT to expand
  • Contribution to SD and societal implications