During the last decade, citizen energy has gained momentum through the significant increase in collective energy initiatives and in citizen-owned renewable energy installations (such as solar PV). The recognition of energy communities and (jointly acting) active consumers through the European Commission's Clean Energy Package further triggered opportunities for citizens to take energy production and consumption in their own hands. EU Member States are now required to develop regulations, implementation measures and facilitating frameworks to further foster citizens’ participation across the energy system. All this will lead to a further decentralization of the energy system. However, in order to set up proper regulations with appropriate tools and incentives, it should be well understood what the benefits (and disadvantages?) of decentralized, local, citizen energy are, and under which conditions these benefits take place.

To this end, the goal of this PhD project is to critically assess the rationale and the implementation possibilities of a decentralized, more consumer-centric system. It does so by examining both from the?perspective of specific stakeholder groups and from a system and societal point of view, why and when decentralization is needed, who?benefits,?and how it should be implemented in the existing system. In this regard, the PhD will examine the following research questions:

  • What is the tradeoff between different levels of decentralization, self-consumption and self-sufficiency? With the new Clean Energy Package, consumers can choose between different degrees of decentralization to gain access to renewables. They can act and invest individually, trade peer-to-peer electricity, or join collective initiatives. However, they can also still rely on the more centralized system where they can buy, for instance, energy from green energy suppliers. In addition, the different initiatives can aim to be 100% self-sufficient or partially still rely on the existing system for their residual energy needs. These tradeoffs are not only relevant from an energy delivery perspective, but also from other points of view.?From a system point of view,?self-sufficiency may have implications on the payback period of the existing (public) infrastructure.?From a flexibility perspective, in case active consumers utilize their flexibility for individual or collective purposes, this flexibility is not available for system needs anymore.?From a social point of view, collective initiatives might help vulnerable families to keep their energy expenses at affordable levels and offer investment opportunities. The PhD should define the different types of decentralization, and examine how tradeoffs between different levels of decentralization, self-consumption and self-sufficiency should be made from different points of view, so that it is more clear under which conditions/factors which initiative is the best to join, whether it is economically viable and which?societal, ecological and economic?benefits it brings along for different stakeholders.
  • Are different policy, market and other incentives for (de)centralized concepts and flexibility provision compatible with each other and how do they interplay? Once it is clarified which concepts and initiatives are viable or recommended (or discouraged) under which conditions, it is important to determine which incentives are needed for the different concepts to make sure they happen at the right time and place. In this regard, it is important to examine how compatible different incentives (e.g., a reduction in distribution tariffs, energy component, taxes…) are and whether they do not diminish the potential of specific concepts (e.g., flexibility provision). Indeed, the incentives intended to boost 2 different concepts could undermine each other’s effect. With knowledge on how compatible different incentives are, one can ensure that markets become properly designed and incentives rightly set, so that the utilization of flexibility for own or collective purposes is perfectly in line with system needs.
  • How should different decentralization concepts/levels be implemented in a harmonized way with other decentralization concepts and with the (centralized) system as a whole??It should be examined how the market organization of these decentralized consumer initiatives should be designed, and how the existing market organization should be adapted to manage interactions between the centralized and decentralized market organizations. Firstly, today, the energy sector rules are largely designed for large players. In case citizens want to participate in these markets, they would face numerous barriers which are currently already well-known. It should, however, be examined how these existing markets can be adapted to ensure a level playing field for the current players as well as citizens. Secondly, in case citizen energy solutions are not 100% self-sufficient, they need to be able to fall back on a more centralized back-up system for their residual energy needs. It should be examined how such interaction should take place and what it would mean for the existing market organization and roles. The current markets would have to take a higher risk and it should, among others, be examined at which cost this takes place.

The PhD will examine the above challenges in the context of the energy system as it is today, and compare them with the system we want to move towards to see how different tradeoffs and the viability of different options might evolve in the future.

In the end, the desired result of the PhD is to:

  • Set up a tool that allows the quantification and optimization of different consumer-centric concepts from different perspectives (size, social and system perspective, consumer welfare…), allowing them to be compared. The tool is set up by preference in Python.
  • Work out a conceptual market model in which the different consumer-centric models can work internally and within the system as a whole.
  • Tentative: new business models for such consumer-centric model can be worked out/looked at/taken into account.

We offer:

  • The opportunity to work out a PhD proposal in more detail and with our guidance. This allows you to a certain extent to adapt the scoping of the PhD according to your interests. Defense of your adapted PhD proposal will take place either on 9/03/2022 or 28/09/2022 depending on your own needs.
  • A unique working environment (EnergyVille – Thor Science Park) in which theory is tested in practice through a living lab (
  • A highly motivated team that has proven excellence in the field of electricity markets and decentralization, which will offer help and feedback during your PhD.
  • Options for different cooperations with other teams such as the VITO Data Science Hub, UAntwerp, KU Leuven and UHasselt, and cooperation with other PhD students working on similar topics (for instance in the Framework of the ETF Alexander project on energy communities/collective activities)…
  • A PhD scholarship when the PhD proposal is accepted by the VITO Jury.

    For more information, please contact dr. Janka Vanschoenwinkel:
    You can apply for this PhD vacancy no later than January 17, 2022 (deadline PhD jury 9/03/2022).

Meer info:…


  • MSc in economics or engineering with strong quantitative skills.
  • Proven excellent study results (distinction).
  • Excellent oral and written knowledge of the English language (knowledge of Dutch is a plus).
  • Interest in the following domains: Electricity markets, Economics of electricity systems, Consumer empowerment and decentralized systems, Clean Energy Package. A proven experience in (any of) these areas is a plus.
  • Experience with software packages such as Python is a plus.
  • Willingness to working in Belgium is necessary: you will be working in 2 campuses: EnergyVille (Genk) and UAntwerp (Antwerp).
  • Availability on 09/03/2022 or 28/09/2022 to defend your proposal to the VITO PhD Jury.