During the last couple of years, energy cooperatives in the Netherlands are on the rise, in volumes as well as in numbers. Not surprisingly, during the same period rooftop solar and crowd funding witnessed a similar increase. Despite all of this, cooperatives have to take quite some hurdles in order to substantially grow.

Energy cooperatives are part of the third wave of cooperatives in Dutch history. During the Middle Ages there were guilds. They divided the risks amongst their members, set standards as well as minimum prices, and took action in case of violations. The second wave was a reaction to the outgrowths of the Industrial Era at the end of the 19th century: especially in the north of the Netherlands farmers insured themselves against crop failures; workers did the same to secure better labour conditions in factories.

The third wave is happening right now, albeit with a slightly different character. Whereas the first two waves were closely knit to people insuring their livelihoods, the last wave deals with improving their welfare (by way of energy savings or generating renewable energy). Moreover, contrary to guilds and agricultural insurance, in energy cooperatives volunteers do most of the work.

From 2012 on, citizen-led collective energy generation has really taken off in The Netherlands. Not by the dozen but by the hundreds, according to the latest local energy monitor. Since 2016, the number of cooperatives has grown to 392, an increase of 60, mostly in solar energy in Fryslân and Groningen (both provinces now have their own collective energy supplier NLD, the first of its kind). Also cooperatives attracted 25 percent more members in 2017 (now 63.000) while its capacity have risen to 37 MWp solar (a doubling compared with 2016) and 118 MW wind (with forecast of 223 MW in 2018).

Though these figures might be impressive on a local scale, they are peanuts compared to renewable capacity generated on the national scale. As recent research of Gabriella Dóci at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam shows, progress of energy cooperatives is not caused by governmental support but rather grows despite of a lack thereof. Dóci has compared Dutch and German incentives for cooperatives and discovered that, whereas in the Netherlands major energy suppliers and contractors reap most of the benefits of renewable subsidies, in Germany around half of all renewable electricity is generated by cooperatives.