Principles of Energy Democracy

There is no singular understanding of the call for energy democracy. The term clearly evokes a desire for collective control over the energy sector, counterposed with the dominant neoliberal culture of marketisation, individualisation and corporate control. Energy democracy is concerned with shifting power over all aspects of the sector – from production to distribution and supply, from finance to technology and knowledge – to the energy users and workers. Movements deploying the concept of energy democracy also demand a socially just energy system, meaning universal access, fair prices and secure, unionised and well-paid jobs. They want an energy system that works in the public interest, with the profit motive giving way to social and environmental goals. And they seek a transition from high to low carbon energy sources, ultimately meaning a world powered entirely by renewable energy. We would like to suggest the following key principles for further exchanges and discussions.


Everybody should be guaranteed access to sufficient and affordable energy. Some 1.6 billion people – or 20% of the world’s population – do not have regular access to electricity, and the number of people who cannot pay their energy bills is increasing. Energy poverty and the location of fossil fuel mining and production sites disproportionately affect marginalised communities, including people of colour and indigenous populations. Reducing energy consumption and ending poverty must go hand in hand. The energy system should prioritise the needs of communities, households and marginalised people.


Fossil fuel resources must be left in the ground. We want to make the energy mix as renewable as possible, and ultimately 100% renewable. An ambitious transition to a low carbon society is our responsibility in order to limit further impacts of climate change for future generations. Local and national authorities must divest public funds from fossil fuels, and reinvest this money in new renewables capacity. A local renewable energy system will facilitate energy conversion and create healthy and thriving communities.


The big corporations that dominate current energy systems consider energy as a valuable commodity for making maximum profits. Old-fashioned centralised state regimes may also facilitate and invest in coal and nuclear plants. Meeting the needs of people while staying within planetary limits requires a completely different logic than that of the free market. New forms of public ownership – by municipalities, citizens’ collectives and workers, often in the form of cooperatives – are emerging to serve the public interest. Collaboration between municipal energy companies and cooperatives is also arising. The means of production need to be socialised and democratised so that people everywhere can enjoy the fruits of a new, renewable energy system.


Many energy workers and unions have united to resist the fossil fuel agenda of energy corporation and, together with environmental and social organisations, to lead a just transition agenda that includes the creation of fairly paid and unionised jobs in the renewable energy sector. The expansion of renewables has created over one million employment opportunities in the EU, and trade unions, social movements and environmental organisations have formed an alliance in South Africa to campaign for one million safe and decent climate jobs.


In order to put the needs of communities first, citizens and workers should be empowered to have greater participation in energy policy. Publicly and socially-owned energy systems have a great potential to introduce democratic mechanisms: for example, the board of directors of a municipal energy company can involve users and employees in making key decisions. Democratic mechanisms can be diverse: from open assemblies and spaces for citizen participation such as the Spanish ‘mesa’ roundtables to binding referendums. Absolute transparency and accountability in all operations is a precondition to democratic control.