University of Groningen

Individual research project: “Citizen Empowerment in the Hydrogen Economy”



As part of the energy transition towards a low-carbon society, the shift to the production and use of hydrogen as an alternative to natural gas is simultaneously a technological, economic and social challenge. While the societal dimension of the energy transition recently gained attention in political and scientific debates, societal implications remain understudied for the specific case of hydrogen as the discussion mainly focuses on the market. One of the core topics of the societal dimension of the energy transition in general, and thus also of the production and use of hydrogen, is the involvement of citizens. In order to explore governance structures which facilitate the participation of citizens in the development, production and use of hydrogen, this project focuses on two main dimensions of citizen empowerment. First, citizen empowerment can take place by means of procedural participation, i.e. public participation in decision-making. In this context, the project aims at unveiling what participatory frameworks best fit public preferences about partaking in decision-making in the hydrogen transition. While legal frameworks in the European Union have a common denominator formed by the Aarhus Convention 1998, national practices might differ. In this context, this project will combine the legal comparison of frameworks and practices in selected EU Member States with longitudinal studies on public preferences. The combination of these methods proves well-suited to reveal synergies and mismatches between what the law prescribes and what people prefer. This will allow proposing strategies to enhance synergies and bypass mismatches to facilitate the societal dimension of the hydrogen transition. Second, citizen empowerment can take place by means of (joint) ownership and/or financial participation, for example, via energy communities. Energy communities are conceptualised as a promising way to facilitate procedural and distributive justice in the energy sector. Fulfilling this potential, the legal framework needs to specify the governance, activities, and purpose of energy communities. So far, the focus of this exercise has been on the case of energy communities in the electricity sector. While this provides a basis for understanding the potential of energy communities for the empowerment of citizens in the energy sector from a legal perspective, it is further necessary to explore whether and how the concept of energy communities can be applied to the case of hydrogen projects. Existing research on legal frameworks for energy communities and real-life cases of energy communities can provide an overview of legal options and obstacles of citizen empowerment via energy communities. This overview can inform the design of a legal framework for energy communities in the context of the hydrogen transition. Together, the insights generated from this project will help foster scientific knowledge on citizen engagement and guide practitioners, civil servants and market players, working on the hydrogen transition.

Planned secondment(s):

This Phd. project will start at the University of Groningen (UG) where Prof. Dr. L. Squintani and Dr. L Distelmeier will help the doctoral candidate acquiring the relevant knowledge about citizen engagement as well as the empirical legal skill necessary to perform the qualitative and quantitative part of the PhD project. During this period the candidate will spend 2 months at the Hydrogen Valley of the North to perform built a network for the performance of the stakeholders interviews. At the end of its second year, the doctoral candidate will then go to the University Rovira i Virgili where he will receive training in the doctrinal constructivism aspects of the research project linked to (Supervisor: Prof. Cocciolo); At URV the stay will have a duration of 6 months. In the third year, the doctoral candidate will go for 4 months to the University of Eastern Finland to complete the training by focusing on comparative methods of research (Supervisor: Prof. Talus).