The Electricity Sector Transition – Transnational Experiences from DSOs and Cooperatives Models


A Portuguese-German Study

Project Duration 01/2016 – 12/2017
Funded by DAAD

The energy sector is under a process of important transition, driven by various pressures to implement innovative technologies, restructure existing regulations and rethink of traditional business concepts in order to further integrate an increasing share of renewable energies within the electricity sector.

The ongoing project analyzes two main and fundamentally different actors concerning their changing role within the current electric sector transition: the incumbent DSOs and the new emerging Renewable Energy Cooperatives.

On the one hand, the DSOs are faced unprecedented challenges given the rapid installation of renewable energy plants to the distribution grid and thus changing the previous one-directional structure of the energy supply system. To maintain the grid stability for a continuous secure electricity supply, new technical assets have to be installed and new operational concepts have to be invented, leading to pressures to create new cost-efficient business models to adapt to the external changes of the energy transition.

On the other hand, the promotion of renewable energy plants led to an increasing number of new small-decentralized energy producer. These ,citizens’ power initiatives are an increasingly present business association model applied in performing economic activities related to the application of DER. Today, there are over 2.400 REScoops across Europe, of which the 718 located in Germany. These new emerging players lead to a further restructuring of the traditional electrical sector by creating additional pressures for incumbent players such as electricity utilities.

The project is carried out as an international cooperation of the University of Coimbra in Portugal and RWTH Aachen University in Germany and aims at gaining novel insights for theory and practice.

The project includes:

  • A regulatory framework analysis, including the collection of regulatory documents and the identification of their main characteristics for Europe, Portugal and Germany
  • A Case Study development, establishing a network of collaboration with DSOs and Cooperatives for both the Portuguese and German cases, enabling the identification of internal dynamics and characteristics of these entities and their past experience, present situation and future role on the ongoing electric sector transition
  • A final policy proposal for decision makers to redesign the regulation of the electric sector according to the obtained findings and lesson learned derived from the theoretical analysis such as practical insights from the conducted case studies.

So far, a comparative regulative analysis has been carried out to identify the drivers and barriers of DSOs and RESCoops for the implementation of the further energy transition. Based on these first findings, visits of two German DSOs and one Portuguese DSO have been conducted by the German-Portuguese research team accompanied by novel practical insights about the challenges deriving from the restructuring of the energy transition. A comparative Case study is to be published about how Distribution System Operators Meet the Energy Transition Challenges. Further, one German and one Portuguese RESCoop were visited, revealing the outstanding differences between the German and Portuguese framework concerning the formation of energy cooperation’s. A carried out survey sent to a pool of German REScoops is expected to bring deeper insights about the current and future challenges of RESCoops.

Project Publications

Pereira, G. I., Specht, J. M., Silva, P. P., & Madlener, R. (2018). Technology, business model, and market design adaptation toward smart electricity distribution: Insights for policy making. Energy Policy, 121, 426–440. [ScienceDirect]



Reinhard Madlener

Institutsleiter FCN


+49 241 80 49820