Community energy business model evolution: a review of solar photovoltaic developments in England

Colin Nolden, Jacob Barnes, Jack O Nicholls

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article (Academic Journal)peer-review

72 Citations (Scopus)
305 Downloads (Pure)


The ongoing energy system transformation process is placing citizens and communities at the heart of future energy systems. To date, their participation has focused on the ownership and control of renewable energy installations facilitated by supportive national policies. Yet across many European countries, policies that have previously supported the deployment of small-scale renewable projects are being withdrawn. Social innovation and the evolution of business models are needed if citizen participation is to continue and succeed in this new policy landscape. At the same time, few business models stand still. This paper reviews the evolution of community energy business models in England to provide insights into the potential of community participation in the energy system post subsidies. Concentrating on community solar photovoltaic projects as the cornerstone technology, this review identifies and critique three archetypal business models as sequentially dominating English community renewable energy to date. Using insights from both Science and Technology Studies and Transaction Cost Economics, it explores the drivers and origin of these models as well as resulting community benefits. Looking forwards and by reviewing current activity, this paper identifies new intermediary actors as playing a key role in facilitating and brokering new, increasingly complicated and commercial community energy business models. We argue that this marks a significant break from the past and may, in time, offer more opportunities for community participation in energy system transformation. Moreover, it offers some communities the possibility of staying small and retaining their more radical potential.
Original languageEnglish
Article number109722
Number of pages12
JournalRenewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews
Early online date30 Jan 2020
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2020


  • Community energy
  • business models
  • Solar photovoltaic
  • Power purchase agreements
  • Transaction costs
  • Intermediaries


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