Global Initiative for Distributed and Local Energy (DALE)

Vision and Mission, Proposed Strategies, and Calls for Participation and Ideas

Version January 30, 2017

This initiative envisions a world powered almost entirely by renewable energy – solar, wind, biomass, geothermal – with over half of that renewable energy in the form of distributed and local energy. In this vision, distributed and local energy not only provides electric power and heating and cooling, but also contributes to economic decentralization and more sustainable cities and towns– to local ownership, local jobs, local planning, local autonomy, local resiliency, local environmental goals, and local solutions for housing, transport, and water. Distributed and local energy also becomes an integral part of the sharing economy and transformation of local communities.

With the tremendous market growth and cost reductions of renewable energy over the past 15 years, and especially over the past 5 years, distributed and local energy has been emerging as a viable and profitable alternative to the reigning centralized energy paradigm of the past 100 years. And this viability and profitability will only increase in the future, and at an accelerating rate.

What is “distributed and local energy”? There are many forms, along a spectrum of technology configurations, business models, ownership forms, planning approaches, stakeholder involvement, and social-institutional organization. Household rooftop solar power is already well known. Beyond that, the spectrum includes:

  • Renewable energy at any individual building level, including residential, commercial and industrial buildings, can include not just solar power, but also solar, geothermal and biomass heating and cooling, along with electricity and heat storage, and can become tightly integrated with building energy management and energy efficiency.
  • Micro-grids, which can serve clusters of buildings, industrial parks, campuses, villages, or other defined-community configurations, can be powered by all forms of renewable energy and can also include heat supply from combined heat-and-power generation.
  • Mini-grids are a larger but similar option to micro-grids, often for entire off-grid rural villages and islands.
  • District energy systems can supply heating and cooling to entire neighborhoods or zones of an urban area.
  • District-level, zone-level, and city-level urban or community planning can target, plan, and collectively implement many options for renewable energy at the urban level that integrate with urban sustainability goals for buildings and housing, for transport (including electric vehicles and biofuels), for local food and agriculture, and for water systems.
  • Locally-sited stand-alone power plants, primarily wind and solar, can feed power into the local grid and serve local consumers.
  • Power distribution grids at the local and neighborhood level can become more autonomous and more self-balancing with both generation and consumption, more supportive of local energy markets, and more of a contribution to regional or national electricity markets in new ways. (The best example of this in the U.S. is the New York “Reforming the Energy Vision” initiative.)

Ownership and energy-service-provision (operation) are two dimensions of distributed and local energy. Household rooftop solar power, in both single-household and multi-household buildings, can be owned by the household(s), leased from a third party, or owned by a third party selling the power to household(s). Households, as well as owners/operators of any building-level renewable energy system, can sell surplus power back to the grid, or directly to other local consumers via peer-to-peer and business-to-business transactions. Microgrids, minigrids, and district energy systems can be developed, owned, and operated by a community association, by a dedicated third-party energy service company, by an industrial association, by the local government, with a wide variety of energy service, purchase, and pricing models for consumers connected to the micro/mini-grid. Local stand-alone wind and solar plants can be local-business-owned, community-owned, or cooperative-owned, and can sell power to the grid, or to local consumers via peer-to-peer, business-to-business, and a variety of other retailing models.

A third dimension, closely related to ownership and energy-service-provision, is the emergence of many new social concepts and associations, such as “solar citizens” and “community solar gardens,” “community wind farms,” and “community choice aggregation.” These social concepts and associations are all variations on local choices and decisions to own renewable energy generation directly, or to buy renewable (“green”) power at a collective or community level.

A fourth dimension of distributed and local energy is that it consists of not just the renewable energy sources themselves, but complimentary and enabling technologies that together can provide the full range of energy services, capabilities, and value. These technologies include local energy storage (of both electricity and heat), demand flexibility (called “demand response”), fuel cells (perhaps with local hydrogen storage), smart inverters (for solar power panels), metering and control that allows response to dynamic or time-of-use electricity pricing, and of course all the information technology needed to allow local energy transactions and markets to function. Electric vehicles charged from local renewable energy sources, integrated with building energy systems or stand-alone charging/discharging are also part of the picture, and can buy and sell local power using their batteries in service to not just mobility but also to a flexible, balanced, and resilient power grid.

Finally, a fifth dimension is aggregation of distributed and local energy for providing “grid services.” Aggregated together in the thousands or millions, the owners and operators of distributed energy can contribute to power grid stability and flexibility, and thus aide the balancing and integration of much higher shares of renewable energy of more centralized and concentrated types (i.e., large-scale wind farms and large-scale stand-alone solar power plants). So-called “virtual power plants”, which consist of large numbers of individual distributed generators, energy storage units, and/or flexible-demand (demand response) consumers aggregated together under a single controller, are another concept for providing grid services, as well as energy and capacity to both centralized (transmission-level) and local (distribution-level) grids.

Natural-gas fueled micro-turbines, which are an efficient form of providing both power and heat to individual buildings, are also included in this vision, as well as larger combined-cycled natural gas turbines that can provide larger amounts of heat and power for micro-grids, mini-grids, industrial facilities, and district energy systems, as well as supply directly to the local power grid. This means that the vision is not necessarily “100% renewable” as some might advocate. But natural gas will remain an important complement to renewable energy in the coming decades, particularly in terms of stand-by capacity to smooth out the variability of renewable energy, as well as local power from micro-turbines and combined-cycle gas turbines. There are also long-term approaches to manufacturing synthetic natural gas from renewable energy, which can then be used in many ways.

Mission and Proposed Strategies

The initiative’s mission is to facilitate the global transition to much greater use and adoption of distributed and local energy, community-by-community, city-by-city, and in such a way that individuals, communities, local businesses, and cities obtain local economic, social, and sustainability benefits from that adoption.

The initiative is intended to be inclusive, empowering, and enabling of a large number of individuals and organizations to make contributions to a greater global whole, and to see how their own ongoing activities of many forms collectively connect to a bigger picture, to allow synergies, visibility, and mutual support.

Across the world, companies, entrepreneurs, households, cooperatives, community associations, advocates, local government planners, policy makers, researchers, and media are all working in relation to different parts aspects of the spectrum of distributed and local energy, yet they don’t necessarily recognize that. The initiative seeks to create value from a greater recognition of these efforts collectively, as part of a whole.

The initiative will target and track specific measurable outcomes, facilitate those outcomes, and report on their achievement. What those outcomes should be, and what activities will facilitate them, is to be defined in a first scoping phase in 2017, and then prototyped during an initial “prototyping” phase through 2020.

This initiative is envisioned to be long-term, at least to 2035 if not beyond. One possible long-term goal of the initiative is that by 2035-2040, at least half the world’s individual and business energy consumers should already be receiving some of their energy from distributed and local sources, or have the viable and competitive option to do so.

The initiative has seven proposed strategic directions. In the initial prototype phase, they will be better explored, defined, and adopted or not.

1. Connection and networking. Connect individuals, organizations, and local governments working along the entire spectrum of distributed and local energy, so that they can benefit from others’ activities, share experience and learning, and gain greater access to tools, services, and information to help what they are already doing.

2. Social concepts and associations. Spread social concepts and association models, such as “solar citizens” movements, peer-to-peer energy trading, local energy cooperatives, solar gardens, and many others. Help existing associations see themselves in a larger global context.

3. Cases, stories, and lessons. Identify and link to as many sources worldwide of relevant cases, stories, and lessons as possible. Identify, collect, develop, and publish new cases, stories, and lessons of distributed and local energy from around the world, with the view to helping others think-through and implement their own solutions and projects. Publish online primarily in video form, as a growing video library with its own topical catalogue and roadmap.

4. Project and practice facilitation. Identify what is currently missing and needed, and work to connect various forms of support to those needs, including expertise, consulting, information, and other resources.

5. Advocacy and education. Advocate for and provide education on distributed and local energy among communities, city-level planners and policy-makers, business groups, and a wide variety of other stakeholders.

6. Policy understanding and advocacy. There are energy policies and electric-power regulatory frameworks at local, state/provincial, and national levels that underlie all dimensions of distributed and local energy. Many of the options for distributed and local energy mentioned above are yet possible in many, if not most jurisdictions because enabling policies do not yet exist. Understanding, identifying, and advocating for those policies and regulatory frameworks is a necessary part of the initiative.

7. Prototyping at city-, state/provincial-, and national-levels. The initiative as a whole, or sub-parts of it, or individual strategies, should be prototyped at different levels below the global level, including at city-level, state/provincial-level, and national-level. These prototypes can identify effective initiative strategies suited to specific conditions, create and lead a coalition of organizations working on distributed and local energy at the chosen level, and also begin to catalogue the range of existing real-world experience, as well as catalogue emerging and viable business, financing, social, and policy models.

Call for Participation -- Individual and Organizational Roles

If individuals or organizations are interesting in participating in the first “prototyping” phase of the initiative through 2020, a variety of roles are possible. Possible roles can be defined for people or organizations to work at the scale/level of any individual community or city, at the state/provincial/national level of their choosing, or at the level of supporting the entire global initiative, and can include, for example:

• Reporter-researcher for identifying and producing cases, stories, and lessons
• Video producer and editor for video library of cases, stories, and lessons
• “Node” of connection and networking at a specific level
• Facilitator to identify practice-related needs, and connect contacts, resources and/or expertise with needs
• Analyst of knowledge needs and support
• Advocate for increasing awareness and political support for distributed and local energy
• Business association/industry association liaison for connecting businesses to initiative
• City government/city planner liaison
• Social media promoter and connector
• Web site designer
• Prototype convener and/or coalition builder for the protyping strategy
• Volunteer coordinator/manager
• Strategic advisor
• Management advisor
• Passive supporter (no specific action)

During the period February to May 2017, the initiative seeks to bring on board an initial group of participants to help launch and manage the first prototype phase through 2020. Beyond May 2017, all expressions of interest in participation are welcomed on an ongoing basis.

Please submit the message of interest form with your name, organization, and message of interest, including possible role(s) you might play, and the scale/level at which you might work.

Initially all roles will be unpaid, voluntary, and/or contributions in-kind.

Eric Martinot is the initiative’s executive director. The Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies in Tokyo will serve as the provisional secretariat for this initiative. Other partner organizations wishing to contribute to the management and operation of the initiative at local, national or international levels are welcome to express their interest. A governance structure must similarly be worked out as the initiative takes shape.

Call for Ideas

Help! The initiative needs your ideas. The initiative seeks any general thoughts you have, as well as your answers to any of the following questions. If you have ideas, please email them to Eric Martinot (email: dale at or submit the ideas and answers form, and/or schedule a phone appointment with him to discuss. (Link forthcoming to schedule phone appointments.)

1. In what ways should the initiative advocate for, and facilitate, the transition to distributed and local energy?

2. What should be the targeted and measurable outcomes of the initiative, over different time frames?

3. What should be the specific activities that the initiative undertakes? As the strategies for those activities develop within the initiative, who would fund them?

4. How to reconcile the local nature of action, investment, and knowledge, with the global nature of the initiative, learning, and synergies that are possible? (And across different policy, business, social, and cultural contexts of different jurisdictions.)

5. What are the best ways to organize, connect, and manage those interested in contributing to the initiative?

6. Who are the real “clients” of the initiative, and what will serve them the most, what will actually give them real value they can use? What is that value?

7. How to involve, connect to, and provide benefit to the product and service providers, that is, the companies that provide services and/or products that are used in distributed and local energy projects.

8. How to involve the existing owners and operators of distributed and local energy projects, from households with one solar roof, to large international multi-project developers.

9. How to connect with city government agencies, departments, councils, and mayors? What will help them the most?

10. What could be the tangible benefits of connecting companies, entrepreneurs, households, cooperatives, community associations, advocates, local government planners, policy makers, researchers, and media across the world, that are all in one way or another working on or supporting distributed and local energy, and of targeting and facilitating their collective actions?

Page updated January 30, 2017