Grassroots innovations in community energy: The role of intermediaries in niche development

Tom Hargreaves (Lead Author), Sabine Hielscher, Gill Seyfang, Adrian Smith

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Community energy projects are attracting increasing attention as potential sources of innovation to support sustainable energy transitions. Research into ‘grassroots innovations’ like community energy often recognises the difficulties they face in simply surviving let alone in growing or seeding wider change. Strategic niche management theory is potentially helpful here as it highlights the important roles played by ‘intermediary actors’ in consolidating, growing and diffusing novel innovations. This paper presents the first in-depth analysis of intermediary work in the UK community energy sector. New empirical evidence was gathered through interviews with 15 community energy intermediaries and a content analysis of 113 intermediary-produced case studies about community energy projects. Analysis finds intermediaries adopting a variety of methods to try and diffuse generic lessons about context-specific projects, but that trying to coordinate support for local projects that exist amidst very different social and political circumstances is challenging. This is exacerbated by the challenges of building a coherent institutional infrastructure for a sector where aims and approaches diverge, and where underlying resources are uncertain and inconsistent. Applications of relatively simple, growth-oriented approaches like strategic niche management to grassroots innovations need to be reformulated to better recognise their diverse and conflicted realities on the ground.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)868-880
Number of pages13
JournalGlobal Environmental Change
Issue number5
Early online date21 Mar 2013
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2013


  • Strategic niche management
  • Intermediary actors
  • Grassroots innovation
  • Community energy

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