Perspectives on the Prosumer Role in the Sustainable Energy System
|Tila||Julkaistu - 15 toukokuuta 2020|
|Nimi||Tampere University Dissertations|
Climate change and the ever-growing demand for energy are pushing us to find new ways to manage energy production, distribution, and consumption. This energy transition is enabled, for example, by the digitalization, decentralization, and democratization of the energy system. The energy system is already transitioning from fossil-fuel and large power-plant–based generation toward a flexible system based on renewable energy sources. Traditional transmission grids are being replaced by smart grids enabled by digitalization that facilitate bi-directional flows of information and energy. At the consumption end, smart energy meters, energy monitoring devices and applications, and renewable energy technologies such as solar photovoltaic and battery storages empower energy consumers to evolve into prosumers: the producers and consumers of energy. These prosumers, also referred to as active consumers and energy citizens, are envisioned to play an important role in the sustainable energy system in the future. While the energy prosumer role has gained more research attention during the past few years, plenty of gaps in completely understanding energy prosumerism still remain. This research focuses on studying the prosumer role in the sustainable energy system. I study the enablers and activities of energy prosumers and explore how the growing number of prosumers may influence the socio-technical energy transition. The research presents two main perspectives on prosumerism; it explores both the micro and macro-level influences on the energy prosumers. The main research fields of this study are sustainability transitions, innovation studies, and policy. Based on theory and literature review, a novel research framework synthesizing the theoretical concepts and earlier research related to prosumers is introduced. From the methodology viewpoint, a pragmatic research approach and mixed methods are used to explore the enablers for prosumerism as well as prosumer activities and their impact on the ongoing energy transition. The research results are displayed in the form of six articles published in international peer-reviewed journals and conferences. The first two articles make propositions about the prosumer role as part of the changing socio-technical energy and innovation system. The next two articles focus on understanding the micro-level impact on the energy prosumers and examine the producer–consumer, in particular, as a co-developer of energy-related innovations. The remaining two articles address the impact of macro-level policies on prosumers. Overall, this research contributes to the understanding of the energy prosumer role in the future sustainable energy system. Theoretical contributions are related to the novel research framework that combines the concepts from the socio-technical multi-level perspective, innovation studies, and policy research as well as offers a more pragmatic framework for inquiry in the context of the changing energy system to observe the prosumer role therein. A specific theoretical contribution is made to the technology acceptance model that is tested in the context of external policy influence. Furthermore, the research contributes to innovation studies and especially to the field of user-centric innovations by bringing new results for understanding the factors behind end users’ collaboration interests. Practical contributions of the study are related to the understanding of the micro-foundations of prosumer interests toward innovation co-creation activities. Practitioners benefit from evidence concerning the differences between consumers and prosumers, which may help them in designing products and services for these different categories. This improved understanding is necessary, for example, to accelerate the diffusion of renewable energy technologies that is crucial for the sustainability transition. Policymakers may benefit from the findings related to the policy analysis that combines and compares different prosumer activities with policy mixes and calls for a more holistic and systemic approach for the development of the prosumer related policies. While prosumer research has increased during the past decade, many future research avenues for the topic exist. For example, more research on prosumer role as part of the sustainability transition can help in designing better policies as well as products and services for consumers and prosumers. Moreover, systemic activities, such as those related to the integration of electric vehicle smart charging into the power system combined with other prosumer activities, offer opportunities for researchers. Furthermore, research concerning novel prosumer-centric business models, for instance related to energy communities, is needed to accelerate the diffusion of sustainable technology solutions.