Polycentricity: Many Actors, Many Levels

Image source: Adobe Stock
Image source: Adobe Stock

The energy system has evolved over many decades towards a centrally controlled system. With the increased use of renewable energies, especially small-scale power generation plants, the energy system is changing: it is becoming more decentralized. The management is not only carried out from a central authority, e.g. a national government or the European Union, but on different levels.  When there are several controlling authorities at different levels that independently set standards and rule within a defined framework, this is called "polycentricity".

Opportunity for Faster and More Sustainable Transformation

Organizing and managing the many actors at dispersed levels offers several opportunities in the transformation of the energy system. Local actors, such as municipalities or energy communities, can act independently and self-organized. This increases motivation and acceptance among actors. It also makes it possible to respond to local conditions in the electricity grid or land availability and to take these into account in the implementation. This way, solutions are created that are resilient, meaning more resistant, and can be implemented more quickly. This is because, unlike in the central system, not all decisions and steering impulses are made top-down. Instead, only basic rules and norms are given, which prevent an uncoordinated juxtaposition and counteraction.


Self-organization needs Spaces for Action

In order to implement such a self-organized system, smaller local actors in particular need to be empowered: They need a legal framework that gives them room for manoeuvre. And they need financing instruments with which they can operate the renewable energy plants or grids in such a way that they generate sufficient income. In recent years, changes in the legal and economic framework have increased the complexity for local actors. Digitalization can contribute here and reduce complexity, e.g. through suitable automation, data exchange or visualization tools.