Explaining the diversity of motivations of members of community renewable energy cooperatives

Community-based renewable energy(CRE) initiatives may be important actors in the transition toward low-carbon energy systems. In turn, stimulating investments in renewable energy production at the community level requires a better understanding of investors’ motives. This paper of Thomas Bauwens, HEC-ULg, aims to study the heterogeneity of motivations that drive individuals to participate in community renewable energy projects and the underlying explanatory factors behind this, as well as the implications for their level of engagement in initiatives.

Based on quantitative data from an original survey conducted with two renewable energy cooperatives in Flanders, Ecopower & BeauVent, the statistical analysis shows that cooperative members should not be considered as one homogeneous group. Several categories of members with different motives and levels of engagement can be distinguished.

This diversity can be explained, first of all, by institutional factors and, more precisely, by the respective weights of market and community logics within CRE initiatives. When the community logic prevails members are more norm-driven, whereas when a market relationship is established between the organisation and its members these are more motivated by material incentives. Second, this heterogeneity of motivations is linked to spatial patterns, as evidence suggests that communities of place are more likely to foster norm-driven behaviours than communities of interest. Third, this heterogeneity corresponds to different attitudes to the diffusion of institutional innovations. Indeed, the segments of members can clearly be differentiated according to their stance toward cooperative management of RE projects. As to the second research question, the paper shows that these differences are reflected in the level of engagement of members: norm-driven individuals tend in general to invest more and to be more involved in the governance of organisations.

Regarding policy implications, the findings suggest that this heterogeneity should be taken into account in designing more effective supporting policies to stimulate investments at the community level. The activation of social norms is also shown to be a promising mechanism for triggering investment decisions, although the implications of its interplay with economic incentives should be further explored.


Thomas Bauwens (ULg) (2017)

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