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Beyond energy communities: Collective energy actions for a faster, inclusive and diverse energy transition

Beyond energy communities: Collective energy actions for a faster, inclusive and diverse energy transition

05 Sep 22

On September 1st, DECIDE held the webinar Beyond energy communities: Collective energy actions for a faster, inclusive and diverse energy transition and took the invited panelists and the audience through a proposed definition of Collective Energy Action.

In the course of the 2.5 years of the project lifetime, DECIDE encountered over 40 different initiatives across Europe. The more the partners explored the social, regulatory and economic aspects of such initiatives, the more it became clear that Europeans find themselves in a great diversity of needs and contexts. In the past years, a lot of work has been (and still is) focused on the new concepts of Renewable Energy Communities (RECs) and Citizens’ Energy Communities (CECs), respectively included in the Renewable Energy Directive (RED II) and the Internal Electricity Market Directive (IEMD). The definitions unlock the possibility for individuals and communities to take action and to have a more central role in the energy market supporting its transition toward a sustainable system of production and consumption.

As Leen Peeters, Th!nkE DECIDE project coordinator partner pointed out, just one of the 7 DECIDE pilots might in the future qualify with the definition of Renewable Energy Community or Citizens Energy Community. This consideration pushed DECIDE partners to consider another avenue, a more general definition that would include also those many initiatives and actors who are already actively working toward the same objectives set by the Green Deal.

After an introduction by Silvia Assalini from ICLEI Europe, who stressed how “to define” means de facto to draw boundaries - which is worth reflecting on in the current energy policy panorama at this stage-, the audience was taken by Andreas Tuerk (Johanneum research) in a journey from paper to reality. Starting from Articles 21 (REDII) and 15 (IEMD) that mention the possible type of activities that individuals can jointly carry out, Andrea presented how the EU Member States are currently making use of them. In the presentation, he stressed how different national governments interpreted, often with some difficulties, the definitions provided and tried to adapt them to the local context. He additionally highlighted the difficulties for national governments in defining a consistent coexistence of the different concepts as well as in understanding the opportunity of some of them (in particular the idea of Active consumer), and the difficulties for companies to grow in this space.

Based on those observations, Leen Peeters (Th!nkE) presented the step forward that DECIDE is trying to make, proposing an overarching definition of Collective Energy Action, which would include the RES and CECs without watering down their meaning, but also other initiatives. CEA will have no limit in acting for profit, no geographical restriction for members and will allow third parties to take over the management. To mitigate the risk of big companies hijacking this space, the proposed definition includes a mandatory majority of representatives of public interest (either local governments or local communities) in the decision-making.

The open discussion which followed saw the contribution from a variety of different experiences and countries: Giulia Torri (Km0 Energy) presented an alternative model to REC and CEC that they developed, based on the feedback from municipalities in the south of Spain, where the management of municipal-lead initiatives are delegated to a third party that complements their lack of resources. Ludwig Karg (B.A.U.M. Consult) building on his deep knowledge especially of the German situation, pointed out that although it is good to enable participation, “some citizens just want to be supplied,” and that it is fundamental to use the expertise gained by local actors without excluding the private sector. Some potential criticisms were raised by Laurène Provost (ClientEarth) who, coming from a legal perspective, recalled that it is still too early to see the effects of definitions. Laurene also pointed out the risk to create a shortcut for industries to take over the created space in the energy market, as well as the potentially uneven conditions for RECs and CECs to operate and be supported, if equal rights would be granted by CEA.

From a different perspective, Tim Taylor (Korimako/Thriving Communities– Alpine Pearls, DECIDER), with his experience in east and south Europe, mentioned how support is particularly needed in those countries where there is no tradition of collective actions around energy production. Therefore, a different organizational set up might be needed to sensitize the uptake of citizens’ participation in energy initiatives. Very positive words came from Achille Hannosset (Directorate General for Energy, EU), who is working to monitor the evolving panorama and recognise activities. To do so, he explained that the first step would be to have concrete examples of such initiatives and the barrier that those encounter in their development. Some examples of pragmatic options outlined are: the increased acknowledgment and promotion at the institutional level as well as the expansion of an already existing concept to encompass the important excluded.

The discussion was enriched by some reflection on the possible benefits that this recognition could bring along, such as unlocking private capital investments and speeding up RES uptake. It was also mentioned that there is a great importance of preserving energy democracy, while keeping in mind that active participation at the individual level implies behavioural change - which not everyone is ready or willing to take at the moment.

The discussion rose more questions that were answered and the DECIDE team is willing to bring this ahead.
All the inputs will be fed into a DECIDE position paper on Collective Energy Action which will be published in the coming weeks so stay tuned!

If you missed the event you can find the recording of the session here.

You can also find the presentation of Andreas Tuerk here,  Leen Peters' presentation here and Giulia Torri's presentation here.

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