A grassroots sustainable energy niche?: Reflections on community energy in the UK

Gill Seyfang, Sabine Hielscher, Tom Hargreaves, Mari Martiskainen, Adrian Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

306 Citations (Scopus)


System-changing innovations for sustainability transitions are pro- posed to emerge in radical innovative niches. ‘Strategic Niche Management’ theory predicts that niche-level actors and networks will aggregate learning from local projects, disseminating best practice, and encouraging innovation diffusion. Grassroots inno- vations emerging from civil society are under-researched, and so we investigate the UK community energy sector to empirically test this model. Our analysis draws on qualitative case study research with local projects, and a study of how intermediary organisa- tions support local projects. We examine the extent and nature of interactions and resource flows between projects and intermediary actors in order to evaluate the utility of niche theories in the civil society context. While networking and intermediary organisations can effectively spread some types of learning necessary for diffu- sion, this is not sufficient: tacit knowledge, trust and confidence are essential to these projects’ success, but are more difficult to abstract and translate to new settings. We discuss the implications of our findings for niche theory, for community energy and other grass- roots practitioners aiming to build robust influential niches, and for policymakers.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)21-44
Number of pages24
JournalEnvironmental Innovation and Societal Transitions
Early online date9 May 2014
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2014


  • Civil society
  • Energy transitions
  • Grasroots innovations
  • Strategic Niche Management
  • Sustainable innovations

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