Socially Innovative Forms of Renewable Energy Provision: Towards a ‘Commons' Approach to Sustainability in Barcelona and Catalonia

Saturday, July 19, 2014: 11:15 AM
Room: 315
Oral Presentation
Marc PRADEL , Department of Sociological Theory, Universitat de Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain
Sebastià RIUTORT , Department of Sociological Theory, Universitat de Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain
With the financial crisis, responses to environmental problems in European cities are increasingly based on privatisation of water and energy companies, and the promotion of technological approaches to increase efficiency and reduce pollution and energy consumption under the policy concept of 'smart city'. This paradigm promotes energy efficiency without discussing the systems of production and supply. Nevertheless, there also exist alternative approaches from civil society fostering new models of energy production, distribution and consumption.

This paper focuses on these proposals and their institutionalisation possibilities through the analysis of a cooperative initiative (Som Energia) spreading in Barcelona and other Catalan cities. Following the experience of initiatives in northern Europe, this cooperative proposes new relations with green energy through the redistribution of both decision-making and energy power. This brings an increase and diversity of actors in the field of renewable energy, moving from traditional large private corporations and public companies to common citizens, who act both individually in the private-domestic sphere and collectively through socially innovative experiences.

The paper analyses a) how the cooperative emerged in its institutional and governance context, strongly dominated by an oligopoly of large private electricity companies and a complex and inefficient regulation that entails economic, social and environmental deficits, and b) the potential of this approach to create a greener and more democratic model of production and supply of energy. Results show that the co-op must tackle barriers and obstacles adapting itself continuously to changing frameworks. Despite this apparent unfavourable scenario, it develops different strategies for ensure its activity paving the way for the strengthening of alternative forms of organization led by civil society that go beyond state and market-oriented logics. These experiences demonstrate the limits of technological innovation in moving towards a post-carbon society. Urgent changes in how socioeconomic activity is organized are also claimed.