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Transforming the energy matrix: Transition policies for the development of the distributed energy model image
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This policy paper explores the model of distributed energy as a viable alternative to centralised models. To illustrate the model, which is characterised by (a) the use of renewable energy sources, (b) the empowerment of consumers through the democratisation of the means of energy production and distribution, and (c) the communal management of the relevant infrastructure, we look at four case studies, which suggest that energy production could be more effectively organised as a Commons, rather than as a commodity. This, we conclude, should be the fundamental principle underlying all public policy proposals aimed at the transformation of the energy sector.

P2P energy, distributed energy, renewable energy, open source technology, appropriate technology, microgrids

By George Dafermos, Panos Kotsampopoulos, Kostas Latoufis, Ioannis Margaris, Beatriz Rivela, Fausto Paulino Washima, Pere Ariza-Montobbio and Jesús López

Structure of this policy paper

This policy paper examines the application of the principles of a social knowledge economy to the energy sector. The Introduction explains the importance of the energy sector, the general principles underlying this policy document and the concept of the knowledge economy, underlining the distinction between capitalist knowledge economies and social knowledge economies.

The next section, Critique of capitalist models, looks at how the energy system has developed under two centuries of capitalist domination and argues that neoliberal policies have created unregulated energy markets and a process of global privatisation, which has weakened social control over key sectors of production and the reproduction of modern societies in both the Global North and South.

In the follow-up section, Alternative models: Distributed energy, we explore the distributed energy model as a viable alternative to centralised models based on private property and briefly describe its main features: (a) the use of renewable energy sources, (b) the empowerment of consumers through the democratisation of the means of energy production and distribution, and (c) communal management of the relevant infrastructure. To illustrate the model, we look at four case studies, which suggest that energy production could be more effectively organised as a Commons, rather than as a commodity. This, we conclude, should be the fundamental principle underlying all public policy proposals aimed at the transformation of the energy sector.

In the next section, General principles for policy making, we sum up the conclusions drawn from the case studies in the form of general policy principles and enabling conditions for the development of a post-fossil fuel society that respects the Rights of Nature.

In the Ecuadorian policy setting, we provide an overview of the energy sector in Ecuador and discuss the policy framework that pertains to national energy policy. Lastly, in the Ecuadorian policy recommendations, we put forward a series of policy recommendations for enabling the transition of already-existing policies into the paradigm of distributed energy and a set of pilot project proposals that are designed to operationalise these policy recommendations and provide a testing ground for their effectiveness.


This policy paper examines the application of social knowledge economy principles to the energy sector of the economy. This section underlines, first, the importance of the energy sector and the general principles upon which this policy document is based. Furthermore, it discusses the concept of the knowledge economy, drawing a critical distinction between social knowledge economies and capitalist knowledge economies.

Energy: Strategic sector of the economy and blood flow of the production system

The energy sector is a strategic sector in all economies: It forms the “blood flow” of the production system and is a key factor for the satisfaction of human needs. A sustainable approach to the energy sector should pursue energy sovereignty and the participation of all stakeholders of the surrounding ecosystem. Energy must be understood as a common good and be approached in a way that addresses multiple dimensions (temporal, geographic, etc.), while prioritising local benefits.

The current global energy sector is facing serious physical and environmental limitations, of which two undeniable examples are the depletion of fossil fuel resources and the threat of climate change. The energy sector requires a transition to a sustainable paradigm, a process in which universal access to appropriate sources of energy for all people should be the priority. Proposing alternatives that harmonise energy needs with ecological sustainability requires a re-consideration of the concept of “development” and a search for new evolutionary paradigms for society. Moreover, it is clear that a sustainable energy paradigm must rely on renewable resources to ensure their renew-ability. In this sense, Latin America faces a difficult challenge: Almost half of its energy supply depends on oil, and this is expected to increase. It must be emphasised that the scarcity and cost of this source of energy will increase, and even if it proves possible to access it, the environmental effects will be detrimental. The fantasy of a “flat earth economy” without entropy or biophysical limits brings society inevitably to a dead-end. To develop the good life, we must be able to examine what alternative perspectives exist for a socio-ecological transition (Guayanlema et al., 2014).

The generation, access and dissemination of information that is disaggregated, geo-referenced and open about territorial energy systems should underpin a new paradigm of energy planning and protocols. These protocols should consider the needs, capacities, renewable resources and methods of resource conservation, as well as the use of appropriate and appropriable types of open technologies.

Crucially, the transition to a sustainable energy matrix requires the development of institutions and technological capacities to effectively manage the flow of energy that is reproduced naturally through the biosphere (CEDA, 2012). The priority is the creation of spaces and mechanisms that facilitate the partnership of the state and civil society with regard to training, research, innovation and the production and management of energy. To this end, a regulatory agenda must be agreed upon to facilitate the reciprocal transformation of energy and productive structures and the democratisation of energy service provision.

An essential factor for the success of this transition is the recognition of the fact that the sustainability of this structure is not only determined by the energy supply, but also by its demand. The strategy must combine the promotion of efficient energy savings based on changing consumer habits, of new ways of exchanging goods and services, of territorial re-arrangement, etc. It is essential, therefore, to pay attention to the education and energy literacy of all people so as to ensure their active participation in the process.

The concept and forms of the knowledge economy

In contrast to traditional conceptions of the factors of production centred on land, labour and capital, the concept of the knowledge economy emphasises the role of knowledge as the key driver of economic activity (Bell, 1974; Drucker, 1969; for a critical analysis of the concept, see Webster, 2006). This implies, of course, that the decisive means of production in a knowledge economy is access to knowledge. From this standpoint, it is precisely the question of how access to knowledge is being managed that largely determines the character of an economic system. Capitalist knowledge economies use the institution of intellectual property to create conditions of scarcity in knowledge: Thus, knowledge is privatised and locked up in property structures that limit its diffusion across the social field. A social knowledge economy, by contrast, is characterised by open access to knowledge (Ramirez, 2014) and so reconfigures the application of intellectual property rights to prevent the monopolisation and private enclosure of knowledge: “Knowledge must not be seen as a means of unlimited individual accumulation, nor a treasury generating differentiation and social exclusion” but as “a collective heritage [that] is … a catalyst of economic and productive transformation” (National Secretariat of Planning and Development, 2013: 61, English version, italics ours) and “a mechanism for emancipation and creativity” (Ibid., p. 41). In a nutshell, a social knowledge economy is an economy in which knowledge is seen as a public and common good; an economy which thrives on the “open commons of knowledge” (National Secretariat of Planning and Development 2013: 67, spanish version, italics ours).

Critique of capitalist models

Energy production[1] has been marked by a tendency towards increased scale and centralisation for the greatest part of its history since the industrial age (Mumford, 1963). In the case of electricity, this model, in which power is generated at central power stations that deliver electricity to sites of demand through the electricity grid, began to falter in the 1960s, as environmental concerns about the use of non-renewable fuels and the increased potential to realise efficiency gains by locating productive units closer to sites of demand strongly favoured decentralisation in power generation and systems management. In parallel, the strain placed upon centralised models by the growing demand for energy in the 21st century has reinforced this thrust towards distributed models, as did the increased availability of small-scale power generation technologies (Takahashi et al., 2005). However, in spite of these pressures for the adoption of decentralised structures, the mode of energy production remains to this day predominantly centralised.

To put this tendency for increased scale and centralisation into perspective, one must understand that the (centralised) architecture of the existing infrastructure is a “legacy” inherited from the industrial age and the system of mass production. Based on the same logic that characterises the way in which the production of goods is organised and centralised in factories in the system of mass production, the design of the existing energy system is essentially the same model adapted to the production and distribution of energy. As a result, it is subject to the very same problems that beset the mass production model: First, as this model is oriented towards the production of an undifferentiated commodity for a homogeneous market, it is incapable of covering the diverse needs of different users. In a word, it is unfit for a market characterised by a diversity of user needs.[2] Second, like the system of mass production, the model of centralised, mass production of energy depends on the continued availability of cheap fossil fuels—coal, oil, and natural gas (Bauwens, 2009, 2012). Without doubt, that is a very dangerous dependence because by ignoring the underlying reality of the fact that an era of scarcity in fossil fuels—especially oil—is upon us, it maintains the irrational and environmentally-destructive use of those natural resources.

In addition to its inability to meet the diverse needs of users and their self-destructive dependence on fossil fuels, the current model of energy generation contravenes the development of a post-consumer society. This is most evident in those cases where the power sector is privatised and operates through the centralisation of the means of production in large power plants, effectively causing dependence on the corporate delivery of electricity service, which reinforces and perpetuates a consumerist lifestyle.[3] Locked in a relationship of passive energy consumption, users are condemned to remain in a state of “energy illiteracy”, ignorant of the environmental implications and operations of the energy system. The resulting indifference that accompanies the present mode of energy production and consumption is, of course, a dangerous form of ignorance, in that it promotes an environmentally irresponsible and irrational mode of energy consumption.

Much the same criticism applies to centralised models of renewable energy that are currently in vogue among proponents of “green capitalism” (e.g., Hawken et al., 1999) and “green growth” (e.g., OECD et al., 2012; World Bank, 2012). Although they are based on the use of renewable energy sources and are therefore supportive of the re-orientation of the mode of energy production in the direction of greater environmental sustainability and eco-friendliness, the logic of mass production of a commodity for a homogeneous, mass consumer market remains the organising principle of those infrastructures. As a result, they do not have the capacity to meet the increasingly more varied needs of energy users. Worse still, by keeping users in a state of passive consumerism and energy illiteracy, the underlying centralisation of the means of energy production constitutes a barrier to the emergence of a post-consumerist knowledge society.[4]

To recap, existing centralised models of energy production, including those that make use of renewable energy sources, are based on outdated logics that run counter to the needs and aims of a post-consumerist knowledge society. By contrast, what a post-carbon, post-capitalist society needs is a different mode of energy production that is based not only on the use of renewable energy sources, but also on the pervasive participation of users in the production, control and ownership process that can be achieved through the decentralisation and democratisation of the means of energy generation. This is essentially the model of distributed (or P2P) energy that, aside from the use of renewable energy resources, is characterised by (Papanikolaou, 2009):

*The transformation of users into co-producers through the decentralisation of the means of production.
*The volunteer participation of individual producers, households and communities.
*The communal character of the management, control and ownership of the underlying infrastructures.

The adoption of technologies and tools for the distributed generation and management of energy can thus create the enabling material conditions for the emergence of the energy commons, in contrast to the traditional state-private ownership models that developed in the course of the 20th century. In addition, a critique of capitalism should highlight the importance of the mode of ownership and of the existence of physical limits to economic growth—two issues that are often absent in debates on energy models.

The question of ownership of energy resources and relevant infrastructures (e.g., grids, production units, control centres, demand site equipment, technology knowledge, etc.) is often overlooked when alternatives to the current, fossil fuel-based, centralised system of energy production and consumption are discussed. The neoliberal “shock doctrine” has spawned a broad political programme of privatisations, from which the energy sector has not been exempted. This amounts to reduced public regulation and social control over crucial aspects related to energy (e.g., sovereignty, energy dependence, price volatility, energy access/poverty, climate change implications, etc.). On the other hand, new technologies of energy production provide the capacity for more socialised modes of ownership in the form of distributed, small-scale energy infrastructures run by community organisations (e.g., consumer-producer co-ops). This is by no means dictated by technological forces alone, but rather by a combination of social, political and economic factors that should not be overlooked. Although smart grids and renewable energies can be the material basis for new forms of collective ownership of energy infrastructures, it is clearly a political process that will shape the future of energy systems and the ability of citizens to own, design, control and regulate their own means of “metabolism” with nature, in which energy holds a decisive position among other productive processes. Copyrights and patents over energy technology are constantly restricting the development and diffusion of knowledge around the world. Open source tools/technologies for the production of energy are thus essential instruments for this political process, which is why open access methodologies are becoming more and more relevant to the conflicts over the ownership of energy resources and technology. The adoption of such open source tools should therefore be a central component of public policies for the development of new technologies for energy production, management and consumption.

It is important to remember that the capitalist system requires constant growth and expansion. However, such infinite growth is not possible in a finite world (Latouche, 2006). Despite the “financialisation of Capital”, which realises profit through speculation and credit, the financial system, sooner or later, has to recirculate capital into the productive sector, whose expansion has clear biophysical and environmental limits, a prime example of which is the depletion of oil as well as climate change. Building the social knowledge economy necessitates a reconsideration of these limits and the development of a process by which social goals will be redirected beyond the exclusive criterion of continuous economic growth. The constant expansion and growth of capitalism is manifested spatially in the global division of labour and unequal ecological exchange in the world system (Hornborg, 1998; Wallerstein, 2006). The areas of extraction, production and consumption have gradually grown apart, generating an uneven development amongst poles of energy generation and energy consumption (Bunk, 1984, 2009). As such, an alternative to centralised energy systems is in the development of a decentralised and distributed system, which promotes new territorial dynamics.

Alternative models: Distributed energy

An introduction to distributed energy

Although different definitions of distributed energy generation exist (Gómez, 2008), the general concept of distributed energy emphasises small-scale generation, consumer accessibility and end-user participation. This is by no means a new concept. Since the 1970s, due to the oil crisis and the realisation of the gravity of the effects of environmental degradation, the concept of distributed energy has been receiving increasingly more attention.[5] Furthermore, technological innovations, increased transportation and distribution costs, the changing economic climate, climate change concerns, and, in some contexts, the emergence of regulatory standards, have reinforced interest in distributed energy infrastructures. Nowadays, the importance of distributed energy systems is indisputable, going well beyond the provision of energy to remote communities.[6] In essence, the paradigm shift in the energy system implies a change in our way of thinking and acting, thereby enabling our communities to propose, design, implement and operate their own infrastructures in a manner that is adapted to the particular character of their environment.

The generation of distributed energy puts special emphasis on demand management and its constant interaction with renewable supply (Kempener et al., 2013). This demand management requires an understanding of the relevant territorial and spatial factors and an identification of who will consume the energy and how it will be consumed in different areas of the territory, as well as of the interplay between different types of energy consumption and production (Ariza-Montobbio et al., 2014). In short, distributed energy promotes a closer connection between energy generation and consumption (Alanne and Saari, 2006). Consequently, this implies a territorial approach to energy, based on the use of geo-referenced information about available renewable resources and consumer dynamics. This new paradigm of planning and organisation of energy information suggests to think about energy efficiency not only from a technological point of view, but also from a socio-structural point of view. Changes in the geographical distribution of homes and workplaces, as well as in cultural practices and in the use of time associated with energy consumption can enable significant reductions in the consumption of energy. An example of this consists of the “collectivisation/socialisation of consumption” achieved through the collective use of household appliances, industrial processes, public transport and so on.

The social effect of distributed energy depends on, among other factors, the scale of production technologies. At the municipal and city level, changing the energy model to a cooperative energy system could result in the development of projects of up to 100kW of electricity generation (based on solar photovoltaic, grid-connected, low-voltage electricity). At the neighborhood level, solar roofs on houses connected to the local power grid can generate 10kW. In the case of rural areas, autonomous power systems with capacities up to 15kW can be installed in the grid, based on solar photovoltaic, small wind or small hydro power. Micro-hydro technology, in particular, is one of the most economical, clean and safe choices for rural electrification if the appropriate technologies are chosen and proper planning of its implementation, operation and maintenance is carried out. There are many successful micro-hydro projects in developing countries, which indicate the adaptability of micro-hydro technology to local conditions, its sustainability, and its contribution to local community development.

Moreover, non-electrical renewable resources, such as low-temperature solar heat, can be used to meet thermal requirements, such as boiling water for sanitation. In rural areas, one can use biogas produced from the anaerobic digestion of livestock and waste. This can also be used for cooking food. The use of these technologies favours the development of groups of producers and consumers known as “prosumers”. When citizens, families and communities use renewable technologies to produce some of the energy that they consume, they become aware of the environmental, economic and social effects of the energy system: The system of energy production no longer remains a black box. In this sense, energy consumers/producers can be made aware of the real costs of energy and thus reduce their consumption through the adoption of cost-saving and efficiency measures. Additionally, the participation of energy users in its production improves the energy planning process, making it responsive to the needs of the users, especially at the community and municipal level. This bottom-up, participatory process leads to a democratisation of energy planning that can satisfy the social, economic and cultural needs of communities without destroying the environment.


A typical example of distributed energy infrastructures is that of microgrids (also known as minigrids), which have been the most rapidly evolving field of the global energy system in recent years.[7] Combining renewable energy production and ICT with a new policy framework for the energy market, microgrids provide scientific, technical, political, organisational and social tools for a fundamental transformation of the energy system on the local and global level alike. Future microgrids could exist as energy-balanced cells within existing power distribution grids or as stand-alone power networks within small communities (given that new control capabilities allow distribution networks to operate isolated from the central grid in case of faults or other external disturbances, thus contributing to improved quality of supply).[8]

Microgrids make use of increasingly available microgenerators, such as micro-turbines, fuel cells and photovoltaic (PV) arrays, wind turbines and small hydro gensets, along with storage devices, such as flywheels, energy capacitors and batteries and controllable (flexible) loads (e.g., electric vehicles) at the distribution level. Improvements in ICT and end-user technology for power management, load management, remote operation and metering systems, data analysis and billing algorithms have contributed to the increasing deployment of modern microgrids.

The “Microgrids for Rural Electrification” report (Schnitzer et al., 2014) published in February 2014 describes the potential of microgrids in rural and peri-urban areas in developing countries: “Over 1.2 billion people do not have access to electricity, which includes over 550 million people in Africa and 300 million people in India alone … In many of these places, the traditional approach to serve these communities is to extend the central grid. This approach is technically and financially inefficient due to a combination of capital scarcity, insufficient energy service, reduced grid reliability, extended building times and construction challenges to connect remote areas. Adequately financed and operated microgrids based on renewable and appropriate resources can overcome many of the challenges faced by traditional lighting or electrification strategies.”

Further considerations

Clearly, although the concept of distributed energy is often associated with “electrical energy”, the relevance of other forms of energy, whose generation and consumption can have a much more significant impact in global terms, should not be overlooked. In this sense, the importance of the transport sector as an essential component in the global economy is undeniable, as is the mobility of people. Currently, transportation means are mainly based on the burning of fossil fuels, which constitutes a significant source of greenhouse gas pollution.

The implications of the future fossil fuel scenario—notably, the continuous increase in the costs attendant upon exploitation, regardless of the severe environmental impact—can be easily mitigated through its replacement by renewable alternatives for electrical generation. However, oil shortages in other sectors, such as transportation or agriculture, will not be as easily replaceable (CEDA, 2012). In particular, the food chain has been identified as one of the most vulnerable sectors (UNEP, 2012; FAO, 2011). As rising oil prices increase the price of fertilisers and pesticides, as well as that of fuel for machinery, the agricultural sector’s growing dependence on these inputs makes it even more vulnerable.

The importance of social participation, open data and appropriate technology

Under the paradigm of distributed energy, energy planning requires a new approach that considers the spatial, social and ecological specificity of the territory. Meeting energy demands with the available supply of renewable resources requires a transformation in the energy system through social participation and the use of open, geo-referenced information.

Social participation facilitates the identification of renewable resources and their potential to develop appropriate and appropriable technologies. A participatory approach that treats the inhabitants of the territories as major actors also allows for a process of social learning about energy issues, which further facilitates their involvement.

Data that is open, geo-referenced and disaggregated provides information for the development of appropriate energy policies. This data should have multiple dimensions—social, demographic, economic, energy-related and environmental—in order to identify those interrelationships that are relevant to planning.

The starting point for planning must be the identification of the end uses of energy: domestic, industrial, transportation, agriculture and services. It is also necessary to characterise and categorise the renewable energy sources available within the territory: solar, wind, biomass (including forest biomass), watersheds, geothermal sources or tidal energy. After analysing the characteristics of the territory in terms of its demand and potential renewable energy resources, one must take into consideration the available stock of appropriate and appropriable technologies so as to ensure energy sovereignty (that is, to ensure that the current dependence on energy resources does not morph into a dependence on technology).

It is important to note that the development of a new industry is accompanied by its own requirements of energy, human skills and financial capital. To achieve the transformation of the productive matrix, it is imperative to undergo a process of diversification within the energy matrix towards a sustainable system through the diversification of renewable resource production, as well as in the end uses of energy. In the same way that changing the energy matrix is a key process in changing the production matrix, this relationship must be reciprocal: The change in the energy matrix requires a change in the production model, which enables the employment of appropriate and appropriable technologies.

For an outline of general principles for policy making, we discuss four case studies as examples of best practice. The first provides insight as to how a small, isolated community on a Greek island has been able to satisfy its electrical needs through the use of a small-scale, distributed energy infrastructure. The second case study focuses on the adoption of small-scale hydroelectric power in Nepal, illustrating the economic and environmental benefits of a distributed technological infrastructure that is locally manufactured and controlled by the user-community itself. The third case study discusses the local, small-scale manufacturing of wind turbine technology, which is developed by a global community of users for use in rural electrification applications. This case is illustrative of the role of the open design commons in enabling a model of distributed development by a global community of users, as well as of the versatility and adaptability of these small-scale, open-source technologies to local conditions. The last case study focuses on the use of biodigesters by agricultural communities in Latin America and the Caribbean, underlining their advantages, such as their low cost of investment, their ease of operation and maintenance and their accessibility to both small and large agricultural producers.

Case study 1: The Kythnos island community microgrid project

Kythnos is a small island in the Aegean sea in Greece. As is typical of islands in general, Kythnos is cut off from the national grid on mainland Greece. It has its own island grid, but this does not, however, have the capacity to electrify all settlements on the island. Thus, in the framework of two European Commission projects (PV-MODE, JOR3-CT98-0244 and MORE, JOR3CT98-0215), a microgrid was installed in 2001, which has since provided electricity for 12 houses in a small valley that is about 4km from the closest medium voltage line (Hatziargyriou et al., 2007: 80-82; Tselepis, 2010). The system, which was designed and implemented by the Athens-based Centre for Renewable Energy Sources and Saving (CRES),[9] Kassel University and SMA, comprises 10kW of photovoltaic generators, a battery bank and a diesel genset. These are coordinated by intelligent load controllers, which were designed and installed by the National Technical University of Athens. The same team of engineers from the National Technical University of Athens provided the members of that community with training on how to operate the technological infrastructure. Being one of the very first pilot installations in Europe, the project has been frequently cited as an example of a cost-effective and environmentally sustainable way of providing a small community with electricity through a model of energy generation at the site of demand using renewable sources.


Figure 1: Kythnos island community microgrid project: Supply of 12 houses (R&D European projects: PV-Mode, More Microgrids) (Source: Hatziargyriou et al. 2007: 81)

In more technical detail, the roll-out of the project was premised on the installation of a 1-phase microgrid composed of overhead power lines and a communication cable running in parallel. The grid and safety specifications for the house connections respect the technical solutions of the Public Power Corporation, which is the local electricity utility. The reason for such a decision was taken on the grounds that in the future the microgrid might be connected to the island grid. The power in each user’s house is limited by a 6 Amp fuse. The settlement is situated about 4km away from the closest pole of the medium voltage line of the island. A system house of 20m2 was built in the middle of the settlement in order to house the battery inverters, battery banks, diesel genset and its tank, computer equipment for monitoring and communication hardware.

The grid electrifying the users is powered by 3 Sunny-island battery inverters connected in parallel to form one strong single-phase grid in a master-slave configuration, allowing the use of more than one battery inverter only when more power is demanded by the consumers. Each battery inverter has a maximum power output of 3.6kW. The battery inverters in the Kythnos system have the capability to operate in both isochronous or droop mode. The operation in frequency droop mode gives the possibility to pass information to switching load controllers in case the battery state of charge is low, as well as to limit the power output of the PV inverters when the battery bank is full.

The users’ system is composed of 10kWp of photovoltaics divided in smaller sub-systems, a battery bank of nominal capacity of 53kWh and a diesel genset with a nominal output of 5kVA. A second system with about 2kWp, mounted on the roof of the system house, is connected to a Sunny-island inverter and a 32kWh battery bank. This second system provides the power for the monitoring and communication needs of the components. The PV modules are integrated as canopies into some of the houses.

To recap, the case of the implementation of the microgrid on the island of Kyhtnos illustrates a model of distributed energy that has enabled a small, isolated community to become energy-autonomous in an ecologically and economically sustainable fashion.

Case study 2: Distributed energy infrastructures in Nepal based on the use of small-scale, hydropower technologies

Small-scale hydropower, or micro-hydro, is one of the most cost-effective energy technologies for rural electrification. It makes use of a local energy resource, which can be usefully harnessed for rural energy demands from small rivers, where there is a gradient of a few meters and the flow rate is more than a few litres per second. It is a clean option based on locally available resources and can be reliable and affordable when appropriate technologies and approaches are used for its implementation, operation and management. It can be economically and socially viable, using local materials and capabilities for installation. It can generate energy 24 hours a day continuously at its full capacity (if needed), the marginal costs are negligible and it can promote job creation and the productive use of energy for income generation and for the social development of communities. There are a large number of successful small hydro projects in various developing countries, which show their adaptability to the local conditions, their sustainability and their positive contribution to local development.

Micro-hydro plants (from 5kW to 100kW) basically divert flowing river water, with no significant dams, and use the forces of gravity and falling water to spin turbines that generate power before churning the water back into the river downstream. In these “run of the river” systems, water is channeled off through small canals and stored briefly in a settling tank to separate sediment, then dropped through a steep pipeline that delivers it into a turbine.

According to the experience of Practical Action (2014) (an NGO inspired by E. F. Schumacher’s [1973] Small is Beautiful), small hydropower technology is one of the small-scale renewable energy technologies that is most adaptable to local conditions, with great potential for sustainability. Introduced properly and within an appropriate policy framework, it can promote local technology and skills. Small-scale hydro energy schemes can be entirely operated and managed by the community itself, reducing costs and making an efficient use of human and natural resources.

Although consultants and companies that specialise in the implementation of energy projects claim that the development of distributed energy infrastructures entails a relatively high investment cost, Practical Action (2014) reports that projects based on the use of locally available resources and on the adoption of appropriate technologies and approaches, are characterised by a much lower cost. From implementation in Peru, Sri Lanka, Nepal and several other countries, Practical Action has found that the cost for small hydropower systems ranges from US$ 1,500 to US$ 3,000 per Unit kW installed, which roughly means an investment cost of US$ 500 to US$ 1000 per connection. Technology research has reduced the cost of small hydro, and the free sharing of technology and know-how (encapsulated, for example, in the design manual for micro-hydro [Harvey, 1993]) has created the capacity to manufacture locally much of the equipment. Alternative materials have been developed and skills transferred to local consultants to design and implement hydro systems. Local technicians (at the community level) can operate and maintain these systems, and appropriate management and administrative models have been developed to suit local needs. As a result, there are now several countries with the capacity to manufacture and install equipment at very competitive costs. For the smaller hydropower schemes, major cost reductions have been achieved through the use of alternative materials and components, local capacity and skills: At present it is possible to find locally manufactured equipment for micro hydropower at one half, or even one third, of the cost of its imported equivalent. For pico-hydro (below 5kW), it is possible to find components that cost one third to one fifth of the equivalent imported parts (e.g., synchronous generators, hydraulic governors and others) (Practical Action, 2014).

The experience of Practical Action also shows that small hydro can create exceptionally low energy unit (kWh) costs compared to other options. With the appropriate technologies, implementation and management, the cost of a kWh for micro-hydro can be as low as about one half of the cost of locally-made wind energy systems and about one tenth of the unit energy cost of home solar systems (for decentralised rural application) and, finally, about one half to one fourth of the unit cost of energy produced with diesel sets.


Figure 2: Growth trend of mini/micro/pico-hydro in Nepal (Source: Alternative Energy Promotion Centre, Government of Nepal Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment)

Figure 3: Micro-hydro installation in Nepal (left) / Training in Nepal (right)

Specifically in Nepal where about 63% of the households do not have access to electricity (World Bank, 2010), since the industry’s birth in the 1960s some 2,200 micro-hydro plants have been put into place, totaling around 20MW, which now provide electricity for some 200,000 households (Handwerk, 2012). Around 65 private companies provide services related to the implementation of micro-hydropower projects under the aegis of the umbrella organisation, Nepal Micro Hydropower Development Association.

The 323 operational RERL (Renewable Energy for Rural Livelihood programme) facilities alone now create more than 600 full-time jobs and about 2,600 people have been technically trained on how to operate a facility. But micro-hydro’s impact on employment goes further and includes specialised training to help spread electric access benefits across the community. Under the programme more than 34,000 people, including 15,000 women, have been trained in larger efforts to develop capacity on renewable energy, manage local micro-hydro units and cooperatives, and initiate other environmentally-related activities (Handwerk, 2012). Similar efforts have been performed in Sri Lanka, Peru, Ecuador and other countries (Practical Action, no date).


Table 1: Market size for pico-hydro in the Andean region (Source: World Bank, 2005)

In Ecuador, a project by ESMAP (World Bank, 2005) has undertaken the groundwork to establish the roadmap for pico-hydro development by initiating a market assessment for pico-hydro in the Andean region, by developing the technical capacity to install and maintain pico-hydro systems at demonstration sites, and by helping a small group of businesses see the commercial opportunities arising from the sale of pico-hydro systems in the country.

In conclusion, the following characteristics and benefits of mini/micro/pico-hydro are supportive of the development of a social knowledge economy:

*Use of local resources and technologies,
*Transfer of knowledge to local communities (the knowledge concerns not only the operation and maintenance of distributed energy infrastructures, but also their development, reproduction and improvement),
*Local manufacturing of several components and local assembly through the use and development of appropriate technology,
*Building with considerable participation by the beneficiary communities,
*Supporting the local economy through workshops, installer companies, etc., and
*Community management of the infrastructure.

Case-study 3: Open source technologies for distributed energy infrastructures

The Hugh Piggott (HP) small wind turbine (Piggott, 2008) (see Figure 4 below) has been used as the “reference design” of the open-source small wind turbine developed by the rural electrification research group of the NTUA, since the majority of existing locally-manufactured small wind turbines have been based on this design. To date, three small wind turbines have been manufactured in practical student workshops, two for battery charging and two for grid connection, with rotor diametres of 1.8m, 2.4m and 4.3m. The practical workshops are organised in the context of undergraduate dissertation projects and are open to all students of the NTUA. During these workshops, the small wind turbines are constructed from scratch by the participating students, a process that provides practical evidence of the ability of unqualified constructors to locally manufacture this small wind turbine technology. The educational aspect of these workshops is of significant value and provides a chance to experiment with a variety of learning processes.


Figure 4: A locally-manufactured small wind turbine following the design manuals of Hugh Piggott (Source:

The design manuals of Hugh Piggott have been a reference guide for locally manufactured small wind turbines worldwide and have proven to be valuable tools in spreading this knowledge, as they have been translated into more than ten languages. It has been estimated that more than 1,000 locally-manufactured small wind turbines are based on the Hugh Piggott design, many of which are in operation around the world. As rural electrification has been an obvious application of this technology, many NGOs and groups have used these design manuals to manufacture small wind turbines in developing countries,[10] while construction seminars for DIY (do-it-yourself) enthusiasts are organised by several groups around the world.[11] Since 2012, the Wind Empowerment association has tried to network most of the organisations involved with locally-manufactured small wind turbines around the world, with the aim of building the financial and human resources required for the activities of these organisations, and performing joint technical research while sharing technical information.

One of the main advantages of open source hardware designs, and of the “open design” philosophy in general, is the adaptability of the design. Open-source small wind turbine technology can be adapted to better suit different environments, such as coastal areas with high corrosion.

Another aspect of the adaptability of open hardware designs is the ability to use parts of the design in other open-source technologies and applications. This is the case of the open-source pico-hydro turbine developed in NTUA, which is a hybrid design between the locally-manufactured axial flux permanent magnet generator (Piggott, 2008) and the locally-manufactured small hydro casing and turgo runner designs of Joseph Hartvigsen. The specific design is a grid connected 350W hydroelectric which has been driven with a pump in the labs of NTUA (see Figure 5) with satisfactory results, while a battery charging prototype of the same design has been in operation for one year in a rural site in Greece.


Figure 5: Open-source pico-hydroelectric developed in NTUA (Source:

Case study 4: Biodigesters in Latin America and the Caribbean

Biodigesters are natural systems that take advantage of organic waste from agricultural activities, mainly animal manure, to produce biogas (fuel) and organic fertiliser through the process of anaerobic digestion. Biogas can be used as fuel for cooking, heating or lighting. In large installations, biogas can be used to power a motor for electricity generation. The fertiliser was initially considered an insignificant byproduct, but is currently considered to be as important as the biogas, as it provides communities with a fertiliser that strongly improves crop yield. Low-cost biodigesters (such as the low-cost polyethylene tube type shown in Figure 6) are considered to be an appropriate technology due to their low (initial) cost of investment, simple operation, basic maintenance requirements and accessibility to both small and large producers.


Figure 6: A locally-manufactured biodigester made from a low-cost polyethylene tube in Costa Rica (Source:

Low-cost digesters have been implemented in developing countries since the 1980s. They were first designed by Pound in Taiwan in 1981. Based on that design, the flexible tubular continuous flow digester, initially designed in 1987 by Preston in Ethiopia, Botero in Colombia () and Bui Xuan An in Vietnam (1994), adapted the digesters for tropical climates. In 2003, Martí-Herrero Botero’s design adapted the digester to cold climates in the highlands of Bolivia, adding a greenhouse (Figure 7) with adobe walls with high thermal inertia and insulation from the ground using local materials. This technology is accessible in countries such as Colombia, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Vietnam, Cambodia, China, Costa Rica, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Argentina, Chile and Mexico.


Figure 7: A greenhouse to stabilise and/or increase temperature (Source:

Similar projects have been implemented in Asia; the SNV Netherlands Development Organisation has driven major national programmes in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Nepal, Vietnam, Indonesia and other countries. China and India have their own national programmes, while in Africa, the SNV Netherlands Development Organisation and the German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ) are promoting programmes of a similar scope (focusing mainly on Tanzania, Kenya and Rwanda). In the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, where no national programmes exist yet, many organisations and individuals have set up projects in Mexico, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Cuba, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Brazil. In Bolivia, in particular, the EnDev-Bolivia project for “Access to Energy” run by the GIZ is currently the largest project in Latin America on biodigesters. Aside from raising public awareness around the benefits of biogesters, the project, which has installed more than 400 of them in recent years, is running the Centro de Investigación en Biodigestores Biogas y Biól (CIB3) research centre and is offering training courses on designing digesters and social project management.

Of those projects, perhaps the most interesting is the Network of Biodigesters in Latin America and the Caribbean (REDBioLAC), as it brings together various institutions involved in the research, development, dissemination and implementation of low-cost biodigesters in nine Latin American countries. Its members include manufacturers of biodigesters, NGOs, research centres and universities with the objective of sharing information and experiences, identifying technical, environmental, social and economic barriers, suggesting ways to spread the biodigester technology in different countries, systematising research and dissemination among partners and encouraging actions that influence policies related to biodigesters.

Through the above case studies we have come to identify a set of enabling conditions from which we can draw several general principles for the development of policy recommendations aimed at strengthening the development of a post-fossil fuel society that respects the Rights of Nature.

General principles for policy making

The democratisation of the means of energy production

As we saw in the case of the implementation of the microgrid in Kythnos (case study 1) and that of small-scale hydropower infrastructures in Nepal (case study 2), the most readily visible effect of the adoption of distributed structures of energy generation is that it transforms consumers into producers and their homes into productive units. Distributed models, such as those based on microgrids, imply the democratisation of the means of production through the use of shared and collectively-owned systems of production, as the underlying technological infrastructure for the generation of energy is not centralised in large power plants, but is installed in the very homes of end users. Energy consumers are thus being made responsible for the daily operation and management of this infrastructure. This investment of users with the means of production is the single most important condition for the emergence of the model of commons-based, peer production in the field of energy.

The importance of investment in energy literacy

The transition to distributed energy models entails significant switching costs, as individual users (households) and communities are required to invest in familiarising themselves with new technologies, which they have to learn how to operate. Without the development and diffusion of such an “energy literacy” across end users, attempts to set up distributed energy projects are bound to fail. Evidently, the design and implementation of such projects should be accompanied by training courses aimed at investing end users with the skills required to operate the relevant (so-called “smart”) technologies that are to be installed in their homes and communities. That is why the implementation of the microgrid on the island of Kythnos included a training course designed to familiarise the residents of that community with the devices that were being installed in their homes, thus ensuring they can operate the infrastructure themselves (case study 1). For the same reason, the Renewable Energy for Rural Livelihood programme has provided training to more than 34,000 people in Nepal (case study 2) and construction seminars for small wind turbines (based on the Hugh Piggot design) are organised by groups all over the world for do-it-yourself enthusiasts (case study 3). In this respect, such training courses are vehicles for the transfer of knowledge to local communities that will enable them to become energy-autonomous.

Community-driven development and the importance of user participation

Distributed energy models evolved out of the demand to respond to the needs of communities and individual households, located often in remote regions, which were either inadequately supported and provided for by the pre-existing centralised infrastructure or not at all. That was the case with the small community on the island of Kythnos in Greece, which had no electricity prior to the installation of the microgrid (case study 1), as well as with rural communities in Nepal that have turned to the development of micro-hydro plants (case study 2). The development of such distributed energy infrastructures has been largely “bottom-up”, initiated and carried out by small local communities, which have taken it upon themselves to bootstrap an infrastructure that better suits their needs. Most importantly, the participation of the community and its members is dictated by the fact that distributed energy models and technologies are best adopted when they are not imposed top-down, but shared from user to user. As it is the users themselves who will be responsible for operating and managing these technologies on a daily basis, it is essential that they be involved in the process of design and implementation of distributed energy projects. For the same reason, it is critical to ensure the participation of end users and local communities in the policy-making process, transforming it into a “mode of social learning, rather than an exercise of political authority” (Pretty et al., 2002: 252). Such participation not only lends legitimacy to transition programmes, as they have been co-designed and implemented with end users and their communities, but also empowers them, helping ensure that policies are truly responsive to their needs.

The significance of open source, appropriate technology

As we have seen, distributed energy projects are characterised by their extensive use of open source technologies, such as open source wind turbines and pico-hydroelectric plants. That is so for manifold reasons. First of all, open source technologies—by virtue of the fact that their design information is freely available (under free/open licenses)—allow the broader community to participate in their design and development process, thereby resulting in rapid improvements in performance and reductions in production costs (Benkler, 2006; also, see the article by Dafermos in this issue). In this way, the free sharing of the Hugh Piggot design for wind turbines (case study 3) and of Harvey’s design manual for micro-hydro installations (case study 2) has triggered a process of distributed, but collaborative, development by a loosely-coupled community of autonomous groups spanning the globe. As a result, the cost of small-scale, locally-manufactured, open source hydropower technologies is now about one third of the equivalent proprietary products (Practical Action, 2014) and the same goes for locally-manufactured small wind turbines. Yet, the significance of open source technologies is not confined to the realisation of cost reductions and performance improvements, which are made possible through their distributed development by a loosely coupled community of researchers, practitioners and hobbyists spread the world over. Equally important, open source technologies are designed with the principle of environmental sustainability in mind and in such a way as to be easily repairable and modifiable by end users. In that regard, they are paradigmatic of what is called sustainable design and appropriate technology (Pearce, 2012), as they do not pollute the environment or deplete natural resources and are designed to last, rather than being thrown away and replaced by newer technologies.

The Ecuadorian policy setting

The energy sector in Ecuador

The beginning of oil exploitation in the Amazon region in 1972 produced a gradual shift in the productive structure of Ecuador towards an extractivist model: This model boosted the national economy, yet it was highly vulnerable due to the volatility of oil prices. In consideration of that dependence on a non-renewable resource, the Ecuadorian government has embarked on a policy of transformation of the economic structure of the country in a way that is consistent with the vision of sustainable development and social inclusion.

It should be noted that the systemisation of information and energy forecasts has not been the priority of previous governments, and as a result, there is a dearth of relevant data. An analysis and evaluation of the process of change of the national energy matrix is necessary to get a clear picture of the actual state of energy supply and demand. To address this problem, the Ministry of Coordination of Strategic Sectors developed the National Energy Balance 2013, which (like the historical series from 1995-2012 [MICSE, 2013]) focuses on the collection and analysis of energy data from 1995 to 2012, including data on the transformation and consumption of all energy sources in all economic sectors of the country; in March 2013, all information related to the national energy matrix was updated. At present, the project is carrying out an updated analysis to better understand the long-term evolution of energy (it should be mentioned that it was necessary to hire external consultants for the development of the above activities, given the lack of in-house technical expertise). The management of the National Energy Balance and energy forecasts will soon be taken over by the National Institute of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (INER), which plans to integrate the country’s energy information, provided by various actors as a key support tool.

A comparative summary of the main energy variables for the years 2000, 2011 and 2012 is shown in the table below (MICSE, 2013):


Table 2: Summary of the Ecuadorian energy system (Source: MICSE, Energy Balance 2013 [base year 2012])

According to the 2012 balance sheet, oil accounts for 90% of the total primary energy production in Ecuador. We observe an increase in energy exports, mainly attributable to oil, which accounts for 92.9% of all exports (129.5 million barrels were exported in 2012). Secondary energy imports also manifest an upward trend, largely due to increased imports of gasoline and diesel, accounting for 32.8% and 44% of total imports, respectively. Moreover, a tendentious rise in final energy consumption, as well as a reduction of energy intensity, has resulted in an increased growth rate of GDP in relation to energy consumption.

Overall, between 2007 and 2013, the Ecuadorian government invested more than US$ 21 billion in the energy sector, US$ 12.6 billion of which went to the hydrocarbon sector, and US$ 4.9 billion went to electricity. Significant change is expected to take place in the coming years: By 2016, hydroelectric production is expected to account for 93% of the national system.

Transportation constitutes the sector with the highest energy demand and fastest growth over the past four decades, rising from an average of 33% of total energy during the 1970s to 52% in the 2000s, and reaching 55.3% of total energy in 2012. Policies in favour of petroleum subsidies have exerted a strong influence on this growth. Base fuels in this sector are most commonly petroleum fuels, particularly gasoline (43.9%) and diesel (42.6%).

Currently, the government subsidy on petroleum fuel represents an investment of US$ 4,594 million, of which about US$ 700 million are gas subsidies. This grant allows for the differentiation of the Ecuadorian LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) price (compared to the international price); the official price of gas in Ecuador is US$ 1.60, compared to US$ 20 in Peru and US$25 in Colombia. This has encouraged illegal trafficking of fuel to neighboring countries. Recently, however, the government announced its intention to eliminate this subsidy by 2016.

Given the high demand for these types of fuels, the Government of Ecuador has promoted an initiative to increase production under the new Pacific Refinery. This strategy allows for a reduction of costly imports of oil products for internal use, but it does not explore alternative resources that could enable the transition of the country into a post-fossil fuel paradigm within the next 20 years.

With respect to other sectors, it should be noted that the industry sector accounts for 20% of overall energy consumption; the residential sector accounts for 15%, and the rest—commercial, agricultural, construction and others—for 10% of total consumption.

Per capita energy consumption has also increased in recent years, reaching an average of 5.18 barrels per household in 2012. Electrical consumption, per capita, has averaged around 1,273kW per household in 2012.

The policy framework

The institutional and legislative framework for energy policy in Ecuador is defined by the Constitution of the Republic of Ecuador and by the National Development Plan. First of all, the Ecuadorian Constitution states that energy, in all of its forms, “is a strategic sector[12] with decisive economic, social, political and environmental influence” (Art. 313), underlining the need to ensure energy sovereignty (Art. 15, 284, 304, 334) under the criterion of environmental sustainability, as explicitly stated in Articles 15 and 408:

“The State shall promote, in the public and private sectors, the use of environmentally clean technologies and nonpolluting and low-impact alternative sources of energy. Energy sovereignty shall not be achieved to the detriment of food sovereignty, nor shall it affect the right to water.” (Article 15)

“The State shall guarantee that the mechanisms for producing, consuming and using natural resources and energy conserve and restore the cycles of nature and make it possible to have living conditions marked by dignity.” (Article 408)

In the same spirit, the National Development Plan (2013-2017), better-known as the “National Plan for Good Living” (National Secretariat of Planning and Development, 2013), describes the energy sector as the “blood flow of the productive system” and underlines the importance of the transition to a paradigm in which sustainability and the knowledge commons are fundamental concepts. To this end, it proposes the “restructuring of the energy matrix under the criterion of transforming the production matrix, inclusion, quality, energy sovereignty and sustainability, with an increased role of renewable energy” (policy section 11.1).

To recap, both the Ecuadorian Constitution and the National Plan for Good Living give explicit political support to the transformation of the energy matrix and the productive structures of the economy to a post-fossil fuel paradigm powered by renewable energy resources.

Non-technical barriers to the diffusion of distributed energy

The greatest obstacle for the diffusion of the distributed energy model consists not so much in technical problems that need to be solved—as, in terms of performance, distributed energy technologies are in no way inferior to the incumbent (centralised energy) technologies—but in a tangle of economic and political barriers that impede the acceptance of the model (Jacobsson and Bergek, 2004; Sovacool, 2009: 4511).[13]

First of all, the model of distributed energy faces strong opposition from the incumbent industrial regime. So far, the experience of the 21st century shows that the fossil fuel industry is extremely well organised, having developed structures of networking that allow it to effectively influence government policy and block transitions of the energy sector in the direction of distributed energy. By contrast, where policy reforms in favour of renewable power have taken place, it is because proponents have succeeded in forming advocacy coalitions that mobilise support from a broad range of actors, encompassing grassroots social movements and networks of businesses and investors that function as agents of “countervailing industrial power” (Hess, 2014).

It is hard to over-emphasise the importance of grassroots mobilisations of green-transition coalitions in the task of alignment of the institutional framework to the new technologies. The transition towards distributed energy models must be paralleled with the development of a new set of social and economic institutions, which cannot be created by the State alone, but must be the result of collaboration between the public sector, the private sector and civil society. To overcome opposition from incumbent actors in the political struggle over the institutional framework, policy makers are therefore well-advised to reach out to existing advocacy coalitions and engage interest groups associated with the new technologies in the process of public policy (Jacobsson and Bergek, 2004; Sovacool, 2009).

Using the above policy objectives as a starting point, the next section of this policy paper puts forth several recommendations aimed at catalysing the transformation of the energy matrix and the productive structures of the economy to a post-fossil fuel paradigm powered by renewable energy resources.

Policy recommendations

The aim of this section is to elaborate on policy recommendations for the transition of the energy matrix to a distributed paradigm. However, before we proceed to the development of specific recommendations, some observations should be made regarding the different components of supply and demand in the energy matrix.

First, it is important to note that an electrical matrix with little diversification represents certain risks, the analysis of which is required in order to understand the implications of climate change adaptation and its impact on hydroelectric generation, given its ability to change rainfall patterns and watershed temperatures. Similarly, attention should be paid to previous studies that question the rationale for the implementation of large-scale hydro projects. Indicatively, a recent study from Oxford University suggests that in most countries, the cost of building large dams is too high and the construction periods too extensive to realise positive returns (see Ansar et al., 2014). The authors recommend, especially in the case of developing countries, that public policies be developed that prioritise agile energy alternatives, which use renewable energy resources and which can be built in shorter time-frames, as opposed to mega projects.

In the road-map outlined in IRENA, the economic case for energy transition is reinforced by its potential to mitigate climate change and to contribute to the improvement of health and the creation of jobs (IRENA, 2014). A greater presence of renewable energy will make Ecuador less dependent on non-renewable resources and make energy supply more reliable and affordable. The report lays special emphasis on housing: In this respect, it is important to combine the dimension of energy with architecture to ensure maximum utilisation.

The transport sector is undoubtedly the primary “field of action”: Achieving sustainable mobility requires a profound transformation of the sector, including a drastic decrease in fossil fuel consumption, improved planning, and the promotion of different behavioural models. Investment in more efficient transport systems is a means to reduce not only fuel imports, but also pollution. To improve freight performance, land use must be analysed in consideration of modified transportation needs. With regard to mass transport, it is necessary to reflect on alternative economic models that reduce the subsidies on petroleum products, thereby discouraging the use of private vehicles. In parallel, the purchase of fuel-efficient cars and quality transportation options based on alternative energy sources should be encouraged. In urban areas, quality public transport should be promoted, including mass transit means, such as electric trams, subways or trolley systems. An analysis of the viability of small electric vehicles, such as motorcycles and small cars, should also be considered. Furthermore, it is necessary for municipalities to promote bicycling initiatives for local commuting. Another option is to evaluate the introduction of biofuels.

In light of this transition, it is also necessary to reconfigure agricultural production so as to reduce its dependency on fossil fuels and re-orient consumption towards locally-produced agricultural products, thereby reducing transportation costs. Without such a conversion, the oil crisis is bound to have a destructive social impact. To mitigate this threat, we recommend such measures as the introduction of ecological practices, the reduction in the use of water, chemicals and machinery, and the increase of human labour and endogenous energy sources (biogas, biomass, biofuels), as well as the consumption of locally-produced foods (CEDA, 2012).

To sum up, an analysis of the present state, as well as of the future potential, of the Ecuadorian energy sector will contribute to achieving the objectives of the National Plan for Good Living 2013-2017. This will effectively spur the transformation of the production matrix, thus generating quality jobs throughout the country. An appropriate plan, with a territorial approach, undoubtedly constitutes a strategic contribution to the objective of social and regional development that the National Plan promotes, thus exerting a profound effect on Ecuadorian society. This is of particular relevance in the context of renewable energy, which is identified as one of the five priorities of public investment at the national level, with the aim of providing the country with a base of human and material solidarity that will sustain the long-term vision of the National Plan for Good Living.

In consideration of this policy context, the following strategic guidelines were developed at the Summit of Good Knowledge (Cumbre del Buen Conocer) that was held in Quito from 27-30 May 2014, with the support of the Ministry of Knowledge and Human Talent (MCCTH) and the National Secretariat of Higher Education, Science, Technology and Innovation (SENESCYT):

1. Define and implement a regulatory agenda for energy efficiency and renewable energy (based on the general principles that have been identified by this policy paper as enabling conditions for the sustainable development of distributed energy).
2. Promote energy efficiency and renewable energy through the transformation of the productive matrix and the use of appropriate/appropriable energy technologies (also, see Dafermos 2015).
3. Implement a new paradigm of collaborative energy planning and protocols based on social and territorial participation in energy assessment (identification of the needs, capacities and resources, with emphasis on the conservation and use of appropriate technologies).
4. Promote the production, access and dissemination of disaggregated, geo-referenced and open information about the energy system.
5. Democratise the distribution of energy services.
6. Create spaces and mechanisms for joint training, research, innovation and production between the state and civil society.
7. Prioritise open knowledge and the use of appropriate, open technologies in public procurement programmes.
8. Promote reverse engineering projects in Ecuadorian public enterprises so as to generate common and open knowledge in the field of energy.

With a view to implementing and testing the effectiveness of these policy recommendations, the Summit of Good Knowledge proposed the following pilot projects:[14]

1. Development of a participatory methodology of energy planning and popular education with a territorial focus: identification of end uses and needs, renewable energy resources, and appropriate/appropriable technologies.
2. Creation of a network of energy innovation laboratories in which to conjoin education, research, innovation and production: productive spaces and training for the production and use of appropriate, open technology.
3. Use of local biomass: implementation of an extractive palm oil plant powered by the oil provided by a co-op of small organic farmers for small-scale use with local agricultural machinery.
4. Analysis of energy resources: identification of the possible energy sources required to design an integrated energy system and an appropriate management model with long-term sustainability.
5. Implementation of a “smart-microgrid” network.
6. Electrification of a manufacturing plant for agricultural machinery by a small wind turbine.

As stated explicitly in the section of the National Plan for Good Living on open knowledge and education of the productive sector, one of the immediate challenges is the setting up of an interdisciplinary institution for the development and diffusion of knowledge and products. It is essential to promote innovation and collaboration between institutions of research and intellectual property as well as between various public, private and community organisations.


We are grateful to Professor Nikos Hatziargyriou of the SmartRUE NTUA research group for his feedback on earlier draft versions of this document. Also, the document has benefited from the contributions of Jorge Luis Jaramillo, Fredy Oswaldo Monge and Aníbal Patricio Rivadeneira, participants at the Summit of Good Knowledge (Cumbre del Buen Conocer). Last, we wish to thank Molly Fremes for her assistance with the English translation, as well as the JoPP reviewers for their feedback on this version of the document.


[1] The term energy production refers to the extraction of energy from natural sources for final consumption or the conversion of energy from one form to another for final consumption.

[2] Because competing service providers cannot offer different “service packages” as in telecommunications, they are forced to compete through marketing and advertising, which results in additional costs for consumers and, to some extent, cancels out the supposed benefits of competitive markets. Against expectations, competition in energy markets around the world has not led to reduced prices or improvements in the quality of the product (electricity) for the consumer. Rather, the creation of open energy markets today implies increased prices for end consumers.

[3] This consumerism is not only the result of the management model of the energy sector, but also of the specific way in which the market for the electricity sector has been designed on the basis of the recommendations of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Numerous studies reflect on this issue (for example, see Xu, 2005).

[4] For a more extensive development of these critiques, see Rogers (2010) and Wallis (2010).

[5] The first systems and power grids operated with direct current, limiting both the supply voltage and the distance between the generator and the site of consumption, so that generation plants could only supply electricity to users in the immediate area. The development of the alternating current allowed electricity to be transported over long distances, significantly increasing power generation. With the aim of lowering production and distribution costs, the vast majority of electrical systems evolved over time into a centralised model of power plants and transmission/distribution grids.

[6] Distributed energy infrastructures could provide great benefits for those areas that have renewable energy resources but are far from major consumption areas, allowing them to benefit from new business models based on the sale of “energy services”.

[7] The evolution of electricity grids is referred to as smart grids. According to the Smart Grids European Technology Platform (2006), a smart grid is an electricity network that can intelligently integrate the actions of all users connected to it―generators, consumers, as well as those that assume both roles―in order to efficiently deliver sustainable electricity supply.

[8] The recent handbook by Hatziargyriou (2014) examines the operation of microgrids—their control concepts and advanced architectures, including multi-microgrids—based on an overview of successful pilot microgrids in Europe, USA, Japan, China and Chile.

[9] CRES is the Greek national entity for the promotion of renewable energy sources, rational use of energy and energy conservation.

[10] Solar-Mad in Madagascar, Green Step in Cameroon, Wind Aid in Peru, the Clean Energy Initiative in Mozambique, ÉolSénégal in Senegal, COMET‐ME in Palestine and I-Love-Windpower in Mali and Tanzania.

[11] V3 in the UK, Otherpower in the US, Tripalium in France, Nea Guinea in Greece and ESCANDA in Spain.

[12] Strategic sectors are those under the exclusive control of the State on account of their decisive economic, social, political or environmental significance.

[13] For an extensive discussion of non-technical barriers to the diffusion of the model of distributed energy, which is unfortunately beyond the scope of this policy paper, see Jacobsson and Bergek (2004) and Sovacool (2009).

[14] The details of the pilot projects are currently being worked out by a group in Ecuador, which is composed of participants at the Summit of Good Knowledge. Consequently, it was not possible to describe them more extensively in the context of the present paper.


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