Polycentric Governance Approaches for a Low-Carbon Transition: The Roles of Community-Based Energy Initiatives in Enhancing the Resilience of Future Energy Systems

  • Thomas BauwensEmail author
Part of the Green Energy and Technology book series (GREEN)


An understanding of the resilience of energy systems is critical in order to tackle forthcoming challenges. This chapter proposes that the polycentric governance perspective, developed by Vincent and Elinor Ostrom, may be highly relevant in formulating policies to enhance the resilience of future energy systems. Polycentric governance systems involve the coexistence of many self-organized centers of decision-making at multiple levels that are formally independent of each other, but operate under an overarching set of rules. Given this polycentric approach, this chapter studies the roles of community-based energy initiatives and, in particular, of renewable energy cooperatives, in enhancing the institutional resilience of energy systems. In this perspective, the chapter identifies three major socio-institutional obstacles, which undermine this resilience capacity: the collective action problem arising from the diffusion of sustainable energy technologies and practices, the lack of public trust in established energy actors and the existence of strong vested interests in favor of the status quo. Then, it shows why the development of community-based energy initiatives and renewable energy cooperatives may offer effective responses to these obstacles, relying on many empirical illustrations. More specifically, it is argued that community-based energy initiatives present institutional features encouraging the activation of social norms and a high trust capital, therefore enabling them to offer effective solutions to avoid free riding and enhance trust in energy institutions and organizations. The creation of federated polycentric structures may also offer a partial response to the existence of vested interests in favor of the status quo. Finally, some recommendations for policymakers are derived from this analysis.


Renewable Energy Energy System Wind Farm Social Dilemma Collective Action Problem 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne. EPFL ENAC IIE HERUSLausanneSwitzerland

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