Conceptualizing community in energy systems: A systematic review of 183 definitions

Research output: Journal contributionsJournal articlesResearchpeer-review


  • Thomas Bauwens
  • Daan Schraven
  • Emily Drewing
  • Jörg Radtke
  • Lars Holstenkamp
  • Boris Gotchev
  • Özgür Yildiz

Community-based energy systems are gaining traction among policymakers and practitioners as promising models for implementing a low-carbon energy transition. As a result, there has been a proliferation of concepts in the scientific literature, such as community energy, energy communities, community solar, and community wind. However, what scholars mean by “community” in these contexts is often unclear and inconsistent. This paper provides further conceptual clarity in the field by analyzing how the term of community is conceptualized in the scholarly literature on energy systems, through a systematic review of 405 articles. We combine an author keyword network analysis of this corpus with an in-depth analysis of 183 definitions extracted from these articles and systematically coded across three dimensions: meanings, activities and objectives of communities. Our findings show that the meanings attached to the notion of community and the alleged objectives pursued by communities vary substantially across concepts and over time. In particular, there has been a shift away from a notion of community understood as a process that emphasizes participatory aspects toward a notion of community primarily referring to a place. Furthermore, there is a growing focus on communities' economic objectives rather than their social or political goals. These findings suggest a weakening of scholars’ attention to “transformative” notions of community emphasizing collective and grassroots processes of participation in energy transitions, to the benefit of “instrumental” notions. This trend runs the risk of placing the sole emphasis on the market value of communities, thereby diluting their distinctiveness from more commercial actors.

Original languageEnglish
Article number111999
JournalRenewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews
Number of pages16
Publication statusPublished - 01.03.2022