Participatory experimentation with energy law: digging in a ‘regulatory sandbox’ for local energy initiatives in the Netherlands

Esther van der Waal, Tineke van der Schoor, Alexandra Das

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To facilitate energy transition, in several countries regulators have devised ‘regulatory sandboxes’ to create a participatory experimentation environment for exploring revision of energy law. These sandboxes allow for a two-way regulatory dialogue between an experimenter and an approachable regulator to innovate regulation and enable new socio-technical arrangements. However, these experiments do not take place in a vacuum but need to be formulated and implemented in a multi-actor, polycentric decision-making system through collaboration with the regulator but also energy sector incumbents such as the distribution system operator. We are, therefore, exploring new roles and power division changes in the energy sector as a result of such a regulatory sandbox. We research the Dutch Energy Experimentation Decree (EED) that invites homeowners’ associations and energy cooperatives to propose projects prohibited by extant regulation. In order to localize, democratize and decentralize energy provision, local experimenters can, for instance, organise peer-to-peer supply and determine their own tariffs for energy transport. Theoretically, we rely on Ostrom’s concept of polycentricity to study the dynamics between actors involved in and engaging with the participatory experiments. Empirically, we examine 4 approved EED experiments through interviews and document analysis. Our conclusions focus on the potential and limitations of bottom-up, participatory innovation in a polycentric system. The most important lessons are that a more holistic approach to experimentation, inter-actor alignment, providing more incentives, and expert and financial support would benefit bottom-up participatory innovation.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages23
Publication statusPublished - 10 Jan 2020


  • polycentricity
  • community energy
  • smart grid
  • innovation
  • local energy initiatives
  • bottom-up
  • energy policy
  • energy law


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