Prosumer collectives: a review
Ford, Rebecca; Whitaker, Juliet; Stephenson, Janet
The widespread growth globally of micro-generation (particularly PV) means that consumers are interacting with electricity systems in new ways, becoming ‘energy prosumers’ – both producing and consuming energy. We define an energy prosumer as “a consumer of energy who also produces energy to provide for their needs, and who in the instance of their production exceeding their requirements, will sell, store or trade the surplus energy”. Growing prosumerism has the potential to create challenges for grid management, particularly if local generation becomes concentrated within a part of a lines network, which can particularly occur with the establishment of prosumer collectives. For this report we reviewed international and NZ articles and reports on this phenomenon, to understanding how and why consumers were adopting microgeneration, and ways in which prosumer collectives are emerging. In considering how people become prosumers, we found it useful to differentiate between ‘active prosumers’ whose decision to adopt microgeneration is self-directed and purposeful, and ‘passive prosumers’ whose entry is the result of external influences or the by-product of other decisions. The shift to becoming a prosumer creates many opportunities for people to become more actively engaged with the role of energy in their lives, which opens the door for collective engagement. We reviewed different forms of prosumer collectives in the UK, North America, Europe and Australasia. From these we identified that different models of prosumer collectives are emerging depending on whether the collective was initiated by a community or third party, and whether the microgeneration facility is on a focal site (e.g. a wind turbine cluster) or multiple sites (e.g. PV on many houses in a community). A further influence is the emergence of new business models and smart technologies that enable prosumers to manage energy production and consumption on a personal and collective level. Some businesses now offer peer-to-peer platforms that enable power-sharing within a microgrid, as well as supporting spatially dispersed collective engagement. For example, prosumers who have surplus power can sell or exchange it directly with others. We identified and named five models of collective prosumerism: multi-site community initiatives; focal-site community initiatives; multi-site third-party initiatives; focal-site third-party initiatives; and dispersed-site third-party initiatives. The common theme is that multiple non-traditional players are consciously engaging with each other in generating and sharing energy and/or the proceeds of energy generation. We identify a range of drivers, barriers and enablers to collective prosumerism. The decreasing cost of microgeneration and storage is a significant driver, along with aspirations for greater independence, control, sustainability and community cohesion. Both community and third-party developments are largely initiated by organisations that have not traditionally been part of the electricity industry. If the industry ignores or attempts to suppress this emerging interest by consumers in collective prosumerism, it may find itself becoming increasingly irrelevant in the lives of electricity users.
Publisher: Centre for Sustainability, University of Otago
Rights Statement: Copyright The Authors
Keywords: energy; Green Grid; micro-generation; energy prosumers’; grid management; local generation; lines network; models of collective prosumerism; drivers to collective prosumerism
Research Type: Project Report
he authors would like to acknowledge the Smart Grid Forum for funding this research. They also acknowledge the aligned GREEN Grid research project, funded by the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment (MBIE), with co-funding from Transpower and the Electricity Engineers’ Association. We also acknowledge our reviewers, John Hancock and Gerry Carrington.
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