PhD: Developing Community Energy Projects: experiences from Finland and the UK (Mari Martiskainen)

mariDr Mari Martiskainen 

Research Fellow
SPRU | Sussex Energy Group
Centre on Innovation and Energy Demand (CIED)
Room 331, Jubilee Building
University of Sussex, Brighton BN1 9SL

Tel: 01273 876715

Tweet: @martiskainen | @CIEDresearch | @SussexNRGGroup | @SPRU
Community energy has drawn interest from the general public, policy makers and researchers in the UK over the last few years. Community energy projects, such as energy saving measures and renewable energy projects, are usually organised by civil society groups rather than commercial businesses. This DPhil research approaches community energy as local grassroots innovation and compares its development in two different countries, Finland and the UK. Key research question is: Why and how do community energy projects develop and how do they contribute to niche development? The thesis uses Sustainability Transitions studies literature, especially literature on Strategic Niche Management (SNM), as a theoretical framing, and empirical in-depth analysis of four community energy projects, two in the UK and two in Finland.

The research examines how community energy projects develop in ‘niches’. Research findings highlight that motivations for projects include monetary savings, energy savings and climate change. Projects are developed by pre-existing community groups or groups that have come together to develop an energy project. Local embedding of community energy projects to each project’s individual circumstances helps successful project delivery. Pre-existing skills and tacit knowledge such as the ability to seek information and fill in funding applications can aid success. Engagement with key stakeholders further shapes projects’ aims and objectives. Community energy projects benefit from a clear leader who works with a supportive team. There is evidence of projects networking at the local and national level in the UK, while in Finland networking remains limited to the local area and projects often develop in isolation. Furthermore, there is a clear lack of active intermediary organisations in the Finnish context. Policy discourse at the government level can aid the attractiveness of community energy, while continued funding support encourages more people to get involved in projects in their local areas.

This DPhil research was funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and was part of a joint University of Sussex and University of East Anglia project Community Innovation for Sustainable Energy (funded by EdF Energy and EPSRC).

PhD awarded 2014,  supervised by Adrian Smith and Gordon MacKerron


Martiskainen, M. (2012) Savings through renewables – community energy pioneers in Finland, Article in The Heating and Hotwater Industry Council Journal, Issue on Community Energy, March 2012

Seyfang G, Hielscher S, Hargreaves T, Martiskainen M, Smith A. 2014. (in press) A grassroots sustainable energy niche? Reflections on community energy in the UK. Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions.

Seyfang, G., Hielscher, S., Hargreaves, T., Martiskainen, M. and Smith, A. (2013) A grassroots sustainable energy niche? Reflections on community energy case studies. Working Paper. Science, Society and Sustainability Research Group, Norwich.

Martiskainen, Mari (2013) Comparing community energy development in Finland and the UK. In: eceee Summer Study proceedings, 3-8 June 2013, Belambra Les Criques, Toulon/Hyères, France.

Martiskainen, Mari, Hargreaves, Tom, Hielscher, Sabine, Seyfang, Gill and Smith, Adrian (2013) Do it their way. Utility Week (online article, 29 May 2013), pp. 18-19. ISSN 1356-5532.

Martiskainen, Mari, Hargreaves, Tom, Hielscher, Sabine, Seyfang, Gill and Smith, Adrian (2013) Zero carbon Britain and community energy: models of a zero carbon future. Discussion Paper. Centre for Alternative Technology, Machynlleth.

Current projects:

Policy synergies and trade offs for low energy innovation

There has been an increasing interest in policy mixes in innovation studies. While it has long been acknowledged that the stimulation of innovation involves different types of policy instruments, how such instruments interact and form policy mixes has only recently become of interest. We argue that an area in which policy mixes are particularly important is the field of sustainability transitions. Transitions imply not only the development of disruptive innovations but also of policies aiming for systemic change. Ideally policy mixes for transitions might include elements of ‘creative destruction’, aiding sustainability niches to gain ground while destabilising existing unsustainable regimes. Our research aims to identify policy goals and instruments, which potentially foster or obstruct the emergence and diffusion of low-energy innovations in the area of mobility, heat and electricity use. The research analyses existing policy mixes by identifying gaps, complementarities, synergies and trade-offs.

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