A range of actors involved in energy transitions are increasingly interested in ‘community renewable energy’ (CRE) for a multitude of reasons. Energy Policy has published articles exploring CRE since 2008. CRE has proven to be a diverse field: having emerged in different contexts and having been driven by a range of motivators, it encapsulates a diversity of technological, organisational, economic and social features. Developing a working definition and delineating what can legitimately be considered CRE is difficult given its varied forms. Drawing on interviews and document analysis with 25 case studies, we analyse the influence of context and motivations through the development process to understand the diversity of forms that lay claim to the ‘CRE’ title. Rather than a single definition, we propose a set of conceptual tools for thinking about this nuanced field. The tools analyse what constitutes ‘community’ RE, enabling proponents to expose the motivations and choices layered into different enactments of CRE in policy and practice. This article contributes to developing a language and practice that can explicitly articulate what is meant by CRE, what forms of activity are pursued and why.