How community renewables could help solve the energy crisis – EURACTIV.com

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As energy bills rise and consumers fear they will no longer be able to heat their homes, some are pointing to newly created ‘citizen energy communities’ in the EU as a way to enable entire neighborhoods to generate their own electricity or to insulate homes.

So-called citizen energy communities allow groups of neighbors to join forces and install solar panels on their roofs or deploy energy efficiency measures such as building insulation.

As energy prices soar, proponents say these citizen-led communities could help lower bills and reduce consumption. But Europe must overcome bureaucratic barriers to unleash its potential.

“The time has come, the time has come” for these projects to scale up and help guide the transition to decentralised, digitized and democratized energy systems, said Achille Hannoset, policy officer at the Commission’s energy department. European Union, who spoke at an event during Sustainable Energy Week.

“We live in a time of energy crisis with potentially a severe climate change-induced winter on our doorstep. To face these challenges, many measures and solutions have already been proposed, and one of them concerns energy communities,” he added.

power to the people

Energy communities can help address the energy crisis in several ways, Hannoset explained.

First, they offer fixed energy prices, protecting consumers from wholesale market volatility. Producing energy locally also reduces transmission losses and lowers demand on the grid.

In addition, energy communities can be a “natural ally” in the fight against energy poverty by working with local authorities and social housing companies, in particular by helping to finance renewable installations and by providing energy efficiency services. at low cost, according to Hannoset.

They can be particularly effective in rural and island communities, which often have higher levels of energy poverty and lower levels of employment.

“Sometimes people really say it’s too good to be true,” said Luisa Matos of Cleanwatts, a company that helps grow energy communities.

“Often we talk about very, very vulnerable communities, villages where the population is almost all over 70 or 80 years old. It gives them meaning, that they contribute something that can bring new people to the village,” she added.

A Cleanwatts project in Portugal aims to create energy communities in 100 villages, focusing on vulnerable areas and those with high levels of elderly people. The company licenses and installs technology for communities.

For this to work, it is essential to cooperate with the community, hiring local workers and involving figures such as religious leaders, said Maria João Benquerença, director of energy communities at Cleanwatts.

Another project, led by Energias de Portugal, focuses on building energy communities on the islands. The IANOS project aims to boost energy and resource efficiency on the islands while reducing their carbon footprint.

A significant proportion of Europe’s population lives on islands and often has higher energy costs, so projects in these areas can have more impact with fewer resources, said João Maciel, director of Energias de Portugal. .

Barriers

But while energy communities are in high demand and a legal framework is now in place at EU level, related administration and licensing systems are not evolving fast enough, Matos said.

EU countries should have transposed the 2019 Electricity Market Directive, which created the legal framework for energy communities, into national law.

But many have faced delays due to slow clearances. And there are also problems obtaining the necessary components and equipment.

“People see their energy bills explode, and then businesses – especially smaller ones – have a lot of problems. They need a quick answer, and we are not in a position to give it to them,” Benquerenca said.

Because licenses aren’t in place, groups have to limit production because they can’t legally share energy, she added, saying, “We waste energy at some point in our lives. where we need it most.”

Over the past year, Brussels has rolled out more programs to support energy communities. This includes the creation of an energy community repository in April 2022 to help citizens set up an energy community in urban areas and a community advisory center for rural energy in June 2022.

On top of that, in its Russian gas phase-out plan, tabled in May 2022, the European Commission set a goal of having one renewable energy community per municipality with a population above 10,000 inhabitants. here 2025.

This goal is “very ambitious”, admitted Hannoset, saying that energy communities “still struggle to become more than a niche in most EU energy markets”.

To address this, he says EU countries must remove unjustified bureaucratic barriers, enable innovative business models based on flexible self-consumption and set up one-stop shops to help build the technical and financial capacity of projects.

The plan is already there for that, Hannoset added, pointing to the clean energy package, adopted in 2019.

[Edited by Frédéric Simon]

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