TANDEMS sister projects: Breaking barriers, building bridges in LIFE LOOP

At the heart of the LIFE LOOP project lies a vision for a 100% community-led renewable energy transition. Despite the commendable efforts of citizen energy cooperatives and local authorities, many municipalities face significant challenges in prioritizing clean community energy. These challenges are both internal and external, making it difficult to push forward with such essential initiatives. The LIFE LOOP project aims to break these barriers by raising awareness about the benefits of community energy and equipping municipalities with the capacity to initiate new energy projects, especially in regions where the community approach is undervalued.

Pioneering progress: from pilot sites to replication

LIFE LOOP’s pilot sites are located in Crete, Greece; Zagreb, Croatia; and Bistrița, Romania. These sites serve as testing grounds for the project’s initiatives, which will later be replicated in Sardinia, Italy; Gabrovo, Bulgaria (which is also a pilot site in the TANDEMS project); Tulcea, Romania; and Cyprus.

Strategies for success: building capacity, raising awareness, and fostering collaboration

To achieve its objectives, LIFE LOOP combines EU-wide and local activities that involve municipalities, energy cooperatives, citizens, and other stakeholders. The project focuses on building capacity by providing training and resources to local authorities and citizen groups, empowering them to start and manage energy projects. Raising awareness is another critical component, with targeted campaigns designed to highlight the benefits of community energy and the potential for local sustainable energy initiatives. At the heart of the LIFE LOOP project stands the community energy accreditation scheme. This program is designed to bridge the knowledge gap by offering municipalities online training sessions on community energy topics and by allowing them to self-assess their current community energy support. By participating, municipalities gain access to valuable online resources and a networking platform that facilitates effective partnerships between municipalities, energy communities, and citizen-led initiatives.

Driving change: catalyzing collaboration for implementing local energy and climate plans

By putting people at the heart of the clean energy transition, LIFE LOOP aims to catalyze significant change. Successful community energy projects and the collaboration between citizens and local authorities can increase social acceptance of renewable energy projects, boost local economies by keeping money within the community and creating jobs, and enhance energy resilience through energy efficiency and sustainable practices.

Navigating challenges, embracing opportunities

However, the journey is not without challenges. Regulatory barriers, funding constraints, and limited awareness among citizens and authorities can hinder progress. Yet, these challenges also present opportunities. Successful pilot projects can provide evidence to shape supportive policies, while raising awareness can drive citizen interest and participation in energy projects. Expanding successful models to new regions can amplify the project’s impact.

Key lessons learned: collaboration, communication, and inclusivity

Key lessons from LIFE LOOP highlight the importance of collaboration, tailored communication, and inclusive practices. Strong partnerships between diverse stakeholders are essential for the success of community energy projects. Effective outreach strategies must consider regional contexts and specific audience needs, and gender-just approaches enhance the effectiveness and reach of energy initiatives. Local engagement from the outset ensures greater acceptance and sustainability, although working with municipalities requires patience and hands-on activities that demand minimal time from local authority representatives.

TANDEMS Chatbot Online: Your 24/7 Energy Community Support

Europe is undergoing a revolution in energy. Energy Communities (ECs) are at the forefront of this change. They are enabling individuals to play a part in the just energy transition. Imagine generating your own clean power with your neighbours. It’s a game-changer. However, attracting new members and keeping them engaged can be a challenge. That’s where TANDEMS Chatbot steps in to take the lead! This nifty little tool shall help managing those curious crowds without breaking a sweat, all while building trust and fostering a positive experience for everyone.

What is the TANDEMS Chatbot

The TANDEMS Chatbot isn’t magic, but it is powered by impressive technology. It uses Large Language Models, or LLMs for short, to understand questions even if you don’t use technical jargon. Think of it as a mind-reader in training – it can figure out the core meaning (the “intent”) and key details (the “parameters”) of your question. Armed with this understanding, it then taps into its vast knowledge vault of FAQs, reports, and other, sometimes open, sometimes neatly curated resources to provide the most helpful answer for newcomers to Energy Communities, but also to people that have some expert questions. In case the Chatbot is unable to answer or unsure of providing the correct answer or whenever the continuation of a conversation is in need of personal information, it will direct you to the real, human experts in your region.

Tandems chatbot replying to questions on Energy Communities. 

Two ways the TANDEMS Chatbot makes life easier for Energy Communities:

Always on duty, never needs a coffee break: Think of TANDEMS Chatbot as your EC’s personal greeter. It can answer basic questions, explain things in a super clear way, and even make the onboarding process a breeze. Unlike its average human pal, the TANDEMS Chatbot is a night owl and an early bird all rolled into one. Newcomers can get their questions answered anytime, anywhere, no matter what time zone they’re in. And – you may ask questions in the language you prefer – the TANDEMS chatbot is multilingual.

Instant “Aha!” moments and picking up where you left off: Whether you’re wondering about the cost savings or the technical nitty-gritty of solar panels, the TANDEMS chatbot is here to shed light on it with brief explanations. It can also adapt to your customers’ knowledge level, providing simple explanations for more basic questions. It is also a tool to educate the public about the opportunities and responsibilities of those who want to set up their own or become a member of an existing energy community. In the end it is like having a personal energy guru at your fingertips!

Tandems chatbot replying to questions on Energy Communities. 

A Sneak Peek at TANDEMS Chatbot in Action:

Right now, the bot located on the TANDEMS website relies on information openly accessible on the internet, on a well-curated document about Energy communities (including trusted links provided by the European Commission and aligned projects) and based on a TANDEMS-based knowledge source also including information on selected TANDEMS pilot sites. All information are based on the elaborations of the Austrian communication and dissemination partner OIKOPLUS and the Flamish energy cooperative ZuidtrAnt. You will receive the most reliable answers about Energy communities and a just energy transition, about becoming a Prosumer and about the types of energy installations. Give it a try! 

Midterm Meeting: TANDEMs in Vienna

For its 4th consortium meeting, the partnership gathered in Austria’s capital and delved into the Austrian ways of energy sharing.

Often, since the LIFE project kicked off in 2022, the members of the TANDEMs consortium have gathered in front of their webcams. The partnership has also met four times in real life to discuss ways and strategies for collaboration between citizen-led initiatives and city administrations in the establishment and operation of renewable energy communities. Halfway through the project, the consortium met mid-April for its latest physical meeting. 

The meeting was held in Living Community Gleis21 (Image: Oikoplus).

Although the TANDEMs pilot sites are located in Belgium, Bulgaria, and the Netherlands, the Austrian capital was chosen as the meeting place. For good reason: Austria’s path to decentralized energy supply offers exciting examples of good practice that the consortium wanted to take a closer look at. 

A field visit therefore took the multinational traveling group to St. Pölten, the provincial capital of Lower Austria, just outside Vienna, for an afternoon. There, David Obergruber and Carina Wenda from the city’s Climate Coordination Office (Klimakoordinationsstelle) gave an insight into their work in setting up two municipal energy communities, which should also allow private households to join shortly. Many thanks to the city of St. Pölten at this point. A short walk through the city center then led to the Klangturm in the government district of the provincial capital. There, Dr Herbert Geisberger, Managing Director of the Energy and Environment Agency of Lower Austria (eNu), gave a highly interesting insight into the administrative and economic framework conditions for the operation of energy communities in Austria. He was able to answer numerous questions from the TANDEMs partners about the intricacies of the Austrian energy market and the boom in energy communities in Austria. He emphasized that one of the key elements of energy communities is that they do not just offer an economic model of energy sharing. Still, much more: real communities are created at a local level, with many social aspects. These are just as important for the success of energy sharing as the favorable purchase of energy, he said. 

Dr. Herbert Greisberger, Managing Director of Energy- und Umweltagentur NÖ (eNu) gave a stand-up presentation on top of Klangturm (Image: Oikoplus).

The TANDEMs partners were able to deepen their impressions and learnings from the field visit the following day at an inspirational breakfast in an informal atmosphere. Michaela Kaineder from the Nobilegroup, a company that offers technical solutions for the operation of energy communities, and Mika Hasselbring from Urban Innovation Vienna, were able to offer further exciting insights into the implementation of energy-sharing constructions in Austria. 

The different framework conditions in various European countries were also recognized. The members of the TANDEMs consortium had the opportunity to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of different legislative regulations. These impressions were important because, not least, the TANDEMs project is also about developing concrete policy recommendations based on examples of good practice from Europe. The meeting in Vienna hopefully provided valuable input for this. 

Status updates on every work package were discussed (Image: Oikoplus).

And even though the weather was extremely changeable – typical of April – the friendly working atmosphere certainly helped to ensure that the consortium’s collaboration in the second half of the project continued to be positive and inspiring, not only in terms of content but also on a personal level.

In a public Inspirational Breakfast, Michael Kaineder (Nobile Group), and Mika Hasselbring (Urban Innovation Vienna) shared insight about the Austrian energy sharing models.

Inspirational Breakfast: Tools to make energy communities thrive!

Energy communities are playing a vital role in the clean energy transition, because they build resilience, independence and long-lasting cooperation. However, there are many legislative, financial and social obstacles that energy communities must overcome. How do they go about it and what methods, strategies or tools do they employ?

From 17th to 19th of April 2024 the TANDEMS consortium is meeting in Vienna for the fourth project partner meeting. During the three days, Oikoplus, our Vienna based partner, will organise an ‘Inspirational Breakfast’. This session invites impulse speakers to give insights into their work with communal energy, energy sharing, best practices, and noteworthy examples of their efforts within the energy transition. Each speaker will offer a unique perspectives into the complexities, but also opportunities of energy communities and energy transition. Their stories have a chance to inspire our partners and act as precedents for others.

Below we want to introduce our speakers:

OurPower is an emerging energy cooperative in Austria operating a peer-to-peer marketplace for RES electricity generated by its members. OurPower handles the online matching services as well as the whole process of electricity supply and billing. ‘Our vision is a world in which people use energy responsibly and obtain 100 percent of their electricity directly from regional renewable energy sources. With this goal, we operate our marketplace, which builds relationships around the topic of electricity. We stand for: common good, honesty, cooperation and pioneering spirit’.

Source: https://www.energiebezirk.at/ourpower/

Nobilegroup is a technology platform for Energy Hubs and micro-PPA’s. They create fully functional energy markets on a decentralized level and independence from volatile energy markets. They also share energy at a cost-based price-level by fully automated matching micro-PPA’s between members of their local energy hubs and their energy network. In 2024 Nobilegroup launched a new electricity offer across Austria under the brand ‘Power to the People’. The electricity comes 100 percent from Austria and renewable energy sources.

Michaela Kaineder, Director of Energy Hubs has been with the Nobilegroup for 2,5 years now and has together with her team already supported around 50 energy communities. Michaela and her team are responsible for the existing market as well as planned market development and internationalization, as well as the further development of the existing energy communities.

Source: https://nobile-group.com/

Mika Hasselbring works for the UIV Urban Innovation Vienna, which is the climate and innovation agency of the City of Vienna. They aim at supporting cities in their transformation into sustainable centres. They also play a vital role in supporting Vienna to become a digital capital and achieve climate neutrality by 2040.  UIV offers services in the field of: consulting, konwledge transfer, communication and netwroking, and project work. They are directed towards services are primarily aimed at the City of Vienna, national and international cities, public institutions, administration, science and research as well as private companies.

Source: Freepik

Join TANDEMS for an ‘Inspirational Breakfast’ !!!
Friday April 19th from 09:00 to 11:00
Gleis 21, 22 Bloch-Bauer-Promenade 1100 Wien

Register by klicking here!

Energy Communities and Cyber Security

Energy communities are based on local networks, connected by smart technology. This raises questions about potential security risks. What do we need to consider?

Energy communities allow energy to be shared locally across property boundaries. Smart energy communities can make a decisive contribution to ensuring that their members are less reliant on external energy. They are thus less dependent on fluctuating market prices.

Electricity Grid and Smart Meters

From a technical perspective, energy communities are billing constructs. In the vast majority of cases, the physical conditions of the electricity grid into which their members feed energy do not change. For example, anyone who operates their own photovoltaic system that feeds energy into the electricity grid, will also continue to feed energy into the grid as a member of an energy community. The difference, however, is that an energy company no longer bills the electricity generated. It is also offered locally to other members of the energy community – and billed at the energy community’s tariff. Smart meters made that possible. These meters can do far more than the electricity meters of the past. They do not only connect to the electricity grid, but also to the Internet of Things (IoT). But does networked and digital technology also create security risks when billing electricity?

The simple answer is yes – because wherever digital networking takes place and where organisations transfer data, there are risks and the need to think about cybersecurity.

Smart devices and security

Leonhard Esterbauer is a researcher at the interoperability of energy communities at the Vienna University of Technology. He explains the digital security risks for energy communities in an interview with the cybersecurity platform of the Austrian Center for Secure Information Technology. He states that “The networking of smart devices in the home or in company buildings naturally brings with it security-related problems. One of the most serious problems is when someone gains unauthorized access to my devices.” He gives the following advice to members of energy communities: “As everywhere on the Internet, it is important to check which of my data is processed, where and how.

As a general rule, a service should only collect the data that it actually needs for its operation. In addition, you should always question why the service needs to collect the date or send it somewhere. Dubious cloud devices are a negative example of this, and one should generally question the use of such devices. You should therefore only engage service providers that already have a good reputation. Otherwise you should have built up trust through independent checks.”

Policy and frameworks

Introducing: the Renewable Energy Directive (2018/2001/EU) of the European Union. It created the regulations and the binding framework for the establishment and operation of energy communities. And it led to a veritable boom in energy communities in many European countries. The scientific debate on the specific safety aspects of energy communities is developing slowly.

A 2023 research paper by a team of researchers led by Giovanni Gaggero from the University of Genoa, Italy, takes a concrete look at the new security risks posed by energy communities. The researchers analyzed architectures and protocols commonly used to build Smart Energy Communities, evaluating possible vulnerabilities. Their paper discusses solutions which society can employ to mitigate the risk, and highlights current gaps in the state of the art. They conclude: “Further work has to be done, in particular on the evaluation of the impact of potential attacks the distribution power grid.

In particular, the possibility that the platforms represent a single point of failure for compromising the distribution grid remains an open issue.” And in fact,  research on the particular security aspects of energy communities is happening. And a two-year research project at the university in Linköping, Sweden, which set-out in November 2023, focuses on developing new security methods for cloud-based energy systems. It also aims to develop new collaboration models that take into account the possibility of stakeholders to contribute to cyber security as well as market conditions in the context of energy communities.

The future of Energy Communities.

In Karen Trant’s vision of the future, energy communities (EC) are like huddles of Penguins, which come together in harsh winters in order to share heat and ensure the survival of many. Through this metaphor, the director of Customer Policy and Protection at Commission for Regulation of Utilities (CRU), envisions an energy transition, which is just, fair, collaborative and offers a supportive and safe energy environment. However for this hopeful vision to come to fruition, a lot of political, economic and social changes must take place. In this article we dig deeply into the vision for the future of energy communities and what still needs to be done to achieve it. 

Source: Quanta Magazine
Vision of the future.

While envisioning the future of energy communities, one must distinguish between a dream and a realistic prediction. These both work together, but they are not the same. One of them represents a manifestation. The other gives an insight on what energy communities must be in order for humanity to be able to cope with the constantly developing energy and environmental crisis. During the Rural Energy Communities and Energy Communities Repository joint conference in 2023, experts came together to discuss both of these future visions. Similarly to Karen Trant, Cilou Bertin from Energie Samen in the Netherlands, sees the future in a more metaphorical way, comparing EC’s to fruit forests. All diverse players have a specific role, but they also benefit each other, and work together in a localised environment.

The partners at TANDEMS envision the future EC’s as democratic, decentralized, but collaborative forms of energy production and sharing. Energy communities should be based on the principles of social cohesion and autonomy. They should encompass a collaborative and mutually advantageous relationship with municipalities or other stakeholders. On an economic level EC’s should become one of the norms of energy production that coexist with other energy market actors. Máirtín Ó Méalóid, from Energy Communities Tipperary Cooperative (ECTC), suggests that EC’s ought to become not just an alternative to the mainstream of the energy system, but be a part of the ‘normality’. We should recognise EC’s as an integral part of the solution to the current energy crisis. 

What needs to be done? Rules and Regulations.

Experts agree that in order to reach this vision of energy communities, we need to make much more efforts. According to Karen Trant, we are at the beginning of growth and development. We still have scalable, but very high mountains to climb. One of those mountains is policy frameworks. In order to achieve a certain vision of energy communities, governments and decision makers should introduce a clear and comprehensive set of rules. Regulations should enable the formation and operation of energy communities. This also includes elements such as market access, financial models and even capacity building or collaborative models. In fact, research organisations and other multipliers of clean energy transition can and should also contribute to policy shaping by introducing policy briefs, which offer summarized and informed policy recommendations.

VITO, for example, the Flemish Institute for Technological Research and a TANDEMS partner, works on the development of an Open Collaboration Model through pilot project work. They test and assess the best strategies for collaboration between municipalities, energy communities and citizens. VITO wants to achieve harmonious and mutually beneficial cooperation. These models can then be used as precedents for shaping new regulations or frameworks of working. 

What needs to be done? Funding

Another currently important hurdle for energy communities is equity. According to Máirtín Ó Méalóid, problems with unequal distribution of resources or money. lace the energy market. According to Máirtín ‘many energy communities spend their time worrying about where to get funding from rather than focusing on the important, visionary aspects of their work’. Equal and fair distribution of funds is essential for communities to become bigger players on the energy market. Additionally it helps them have the same share of influence as well as creditworthiness as other actors. Access to financing is furthermore allowing EC’s to have the same creditworthiness of larger energy developments. 

Addressing policy frameworks and funding is fundamental to achieving other important changes such as public awareness, participation and partnerships. By creating supportive policies, the energy market is able to create an environment of growth and popularity for energy communities. This way in the future the energy system can be resilient, sustainable and empowering for citizens. 

Capacity building: How to make citizens feel empowered?

In February, TANDEMS joined other LIFEProgramme projects in a meeting, which aimed to strengthen inter-project collaboration and give space to knowledge exchange opportunities. One of the most prominent topics was the issue of capacity building. All LifeProgramme projects put their heads together to debate over their strategies on how to ensure that individuals or communities take charge of their needs and identify their priorities. In this article we dive deep into the challenges, opportunities and best practices in capacity building for communal energy projects. 

What is Capacity Building?

Capacity-building is defined as ‘the process of developing and strengthening the skills, instincts, abilities, processes and resources that organisations and communities need to survive, adapt and thrive in a fast changing world’. Under the umbrella of the LifeProgramme, projects are working tirelessly on building capacity within the energy sector. They ensure that individuals, neighbourhoods, regions or communities become resilient towards the continuously shifting and unpredictable energy market. In TANDEMS, for example, the method of achieving this is encouraging the setting up of energy communities. Additionally the project supports the collaboration between municipalities and energy cooperatives. Capacity building is, however, not a straightforward process. During the meeting, all LifeProjects worked together to identify the potential challenges, opportunities and future strategies for this process. 


One of the more prominent challenges of capacity building is the lack of a universal feeling of democratic rights among the society. Many citizens still are victims to a power hierarchy within the current political systems. Residents do not feel empowered enough to become autonomous from e.g an energy market, which does not have their best interests in mind. Changing power structures is a very long and complex process, which is extremely difficult to introduce.

Another existing challenge is sustainability. Building up capacity is one thing, but making sure that the new resilience learned by the community is sustainable, requires time, patience and continuous effort. Much of which cannot be afforded, especially when immediate results are needed, e.g. in old flats, which require immediate energy renovations. Lastly, capacity building is a very dynamic and intangible process. It is not the same all the time and it cannot be easily measured. This can lead to a sense of dissatisfaction and breach of perseverance. 


Nevertheless, challenges also open up multiple opportunities. Within the TANDEMS project, many energy communities work on a very localized and small scale. This avoids having to address bigger, extremely difficult issues such as power hierarchies within democratic societies. One of our partners, AGEM Energy Experts, is a great example of this. They work in a very localised area of Achterhoek where they are able to deeply understand local contexts and build capacity not only on a peripheral level, but also cause social and behavioural transformation. AGEM additionally offers expertise help. It helps citizens to fully understand and gain the skills needed to set up and manage an energy community in the long term.

Source: https://www.energieloketachterhoek.nl/over-energieloket-achterhoek/werken-bij/

Another illustrative example of good capacity building strategies is TANDEMS sister project, LifeLOOP. The project uses a variety of methods to build skills. Some of which include coaching and mentoring, networking and matchmaking or resource sharing. LifeLOOP additionally offers training sessions on ‘topics related to community energy such as renewable energy technologies, energy efficiency, financing models, community engagement, and project management’.

The meeting concluded in three main capacity building strategies. Putting priority in collaboration and formation of networks, which can train each other as well as form a strong and resilient community. Offering financial and legal advice by experts, which is tailored to individual needs and adjusted with time. And lastly, ensuring a long term vision for citizens of a certain community. Long term planning ensures sustainability and proliferation of good practices. These strategies can help energy communities, clean energy advocates,  municipalities or individual citizens to become independent and effectively manage their energy resources in the long run.

Cultivating Resilience: Exploring the Synergy of De-growth and Energy Communities

It has been a hot minute since experts began to question the sustainability of our current energy system. It became increasingly obvious that continuing business as usual in the energy sector leads to environmental and social exploitation as well as inequality. In short- it still opposes the basic principles of de-growth. Energy communities (EC) and renewable energy initiatives have the power to combat that through more sustainable and localised efforts. In this article we focus on how this is possible. We also ask what the exact relationship between de-growth and energy communities is. 

Source: https://www.resilience.org/stories/2023-10-18/how-community-energy-initiatives-can-be-an-effective-tool-for-degrowth/
What is de-growth?

In today’s world, the idea of growth and development is usually connotated with financial growth and increased output at all costs. This is the concept which is criticised by the idea of de-growth. De-growth focuses on ecological, but more importantly social well-being. Namely, to transform societies to ensure environmental justice. Due to recent geopolitical events, the fragility of our current energy system and the industry’s dependence on the current status quo, experts have realized that we need to dramatically cut down on emissions across all sectors and prioritize equity, inclusion and environmental justice. 

De-growth and citizen empowerment.

However, this discourse is now also reaching the general public. Citizens are becoming concerned with the current energy crisis. We hold governments accountable for providing access to energy in a just and democratic way. Some realize that this pathway, of putting all the responsibility on one organ and waiting for results, is futile. Many start to understand the empowering benefits of activist movements. These movements introduce the concept of a decentralized, but also autonomous and renewable energy production; energy communities. 

Working together?

The TANDEMS project encourages this citizen-led form of energy production. On the other hand, we realize the need for collaboration in order to achieve the sustainable goals of the de-growth movement. TANDEMS focuses on the cooperation between  municipalities, energy communities and citizens. A just energy system can be created only through consensus from decision-makers and citizens. This allows to establish a new and sustainable energy system, based on policies, targeted actions, equipment and independence. One of TANDEMS partners, ZuidtrAnt is a great example of how this collaboration is possible. They work together with multiple municipalities in order to meet the objectives of LEKP (Local Energy and Climate Pact). In Schoten, one of cooperating municipality, ZuidtrAnt offers information sessions, renovation guidance and shared renewable energy opportunities. The EC also helps to install solar panels, motivates citizens to invest in energy communities and organises intensive renovation programmes for whole neighbourhoods. 

The road to a strong, resilient and just energy system, led by citizens and supported by governments, which focuses on cultivating social and environmental well-being is a very long and complex one. It will take much more work, mutual understanding and changing of the current trends or ways of thinking in order to achieve this ideal scenario. Nevertheless the efforts that are being put by energy communities are very viable and give us glimpses to what the future can look like. 

How Municipalities Can Make a Difference in Energy Communities?

In one of our previous articles in this newsletter, we have touched on the topic of the importance of collaboration in energy transition. In this segment, we want to dive even deeper and zoom into the collaboration between energy communities and municipalities. Municipalities play a crucial role in supporting energy communities by providing guidance, resources and infrastructure to foster sustainable energy initiatives. That is why in this article we ask ourselves exactly how municipalities can become vital actors in the energy transition.

Policies, Regulations and Fundings.

There are multiple ways in which municipalities can assist energy communities. First of all, regulatory powers can create supportive policies and regulations. Additionally, they have the possibility to provide grants or subsidies for community-owned renewable energy projects. That helps to cover initial costs or incentivizes community participation. Lastly, municipalities can create an environment and platform, where new communal energy-oriented business models can flourish.  To exemplify, we would like to mention the municipality of Gaborovo. As mentioned by Todor Popov in the TANDEMS last internal inspiration session, the council of Gabrovo approved a decision, which allows the introduction of a cost-price model for clean energy. This step allows citizens and small businesses to invest in clean energy and incentivises them to contribute to the goals of energy communities. This municipal role is important, because it puts energy communities as valid actors on the energy market. 

Community Engagement

One of the biggest issues that many energy communities are currently struggling with, is community engagement. Governing powers can ease this stress by involving local residents in the decision making process related to energy initiatives. They can also encourage participation through public forums, citizen advisory groups or community meetings. Mechelen, for example, works closely with Klimaan, an energy community based in Belgium, in order to facilitate networking opportunities for energy communities. Mechelen creates platforms and events, which allows citizens to share and exchange their needs and expectations. On an internal scale, municipalities collaborate with energy cooperatives or consultancy agencies in order to jointly discuss what efforts can be made to bring citizens closer to the clean energy transition. To exemplify ZuidtrAnt and AGEM collaborated with the municipalities which house their pilot projects, in order to organise so-called ‘Learning History Workshops’, where both parties discuss their progress and collaboration. The workshops aimed to facilitate knowledge sharing, organizational learning and insights on how to continue collaborative efforts. 


The last aspect discussed in this article (although definitely not the last way governments can support energy communities) is infrastructure development and technical expertise. Municipalities can choose various ways, including public procurement, in which they can contribute to adapting current infrastructure to energy transition or form new solutions. Allocating funds or seeking grants for infrastructure development is pivotal, This includes investing in solar panels, microgrids or wind turbines. It also, however, includes updating power grids to accommodate decentralized energy production or incentivising the installation of renewable energy systems. 

To exemplify, let us look at one of TANDEMS partners ZuidtrAnt, a Belgian based energy cooperative. ZuidtrAnt works on the energy transition by engaging in many different activities, one of them being giving coaching and support advice to citizens, who are planning to renovate the energy systems in their homes. In order to do that ZuidtrAnt works closely with municipalities (e.g Zoersel) in order to be able to offer citizens the most tailored and affordable advice as well as funds or subsidies provided by governments. Collaboration on this level and in this field is not only efficient, but also eases the process of energy transition. Citizens feel encouraged and secure to make big or small steps. 

Municipalities play a big role in the clean energy transition process. Nevertheless they also need guidance and support. That is why EnergyCites compiled a guide for regional or local policy and decision makers to move forward the energy transition of their communities. You can access it here. Collaboration between municipalities takes some work and adjustment processes, but it’s mutually beneficial and creates a sustainable future.  

Uplifting Energy Communities

In this article we want to introduce our recent inspiration, which is UP-STAIRS by Horizon 2020. This project accelerates the creation of energy communities and collective action. It is done by setting up One-Stop-Shops in 5 pilot regions across the EU. The TANDEMS consortium talked to UP-STAIRS representative, Ivanka Pandelieva-Dimova, who is the project manager at the Sofia Energy Centre.

What is UP-STAIRS?

UP-STAIRS is a collaboration of 11 oranisations from 7 European countries. It chose 5 pilot regions for setting up One-Stop-Shops (OSS), which facilitate the establishment of energy communities and engage citizens in the Energy Transition. More precisely the OSS ‘provides advice and support to citizens on organisational, administrative, legal, technical and financial aspects of energy efficiency measures in combination with renewable energy (PV or biomass)’. You can read more about the project here.


The focus of our inspiration session with  Ivanka Pandelieva-Dimova was on the pilot region of Asenovgrad in Bulgaria. Since TANDEMS also has two pilot regions in Bulgaria, Gabrovo and Burgas, knowledge exchange about legislative, financial or administrative obstacles and opportunities is very beneficial. Additionally the establishment of a One-Stop-Shop, where residents can get most important information in a single place is a great inspiration for TANDEM partners.

In Asenovgrad the OSS took form of a physical presence in a municipal building. It invited different profiles of experts such as economists, lawyers or technicians. It was clear that residents of the municipality preferred personal contact and face to face discussions to establish a good level of trust. The OSS directs its services to individual homeowners in multifamily buildings. This target group is also addressed in Burgas, as presented by Ivaylo Trendafilov during our second consortium meeting. The OSS established by UP-STAIRS focused on delivering to citizens many of the same concepts, which TANDEMS hopes to do. Namely, establishing home-owners associations, working together to form energy communities (also in multi-family buildings), inform residents of ways to install solar panels or other energy saving measures or educate residents on current policies and legislation.

Bulgarian energy communities: Gabrovo

OSS is a great example of a method to engage citizens. Nevertheless Bulgaria still faces regulatory obstacles such as finances and public awareness. For this reason alongside developing methodology to address citizens, efforts are also made to adapt the current legal or financial frameworks, which make it beneficial or profitable for citizens to invest.

Todor Popov, from the municipality of Gabrovo picks up the topic of energy transition in Bulgaria and explains Gabrovo’s own efforts. In October of this year Gabrovo Council signed a decision, which approves of a cost-price model for clean energy. Gabrovo will work on establishing a business model, which allows citizens and small businesses to invest in clean energy. It also ‘tests the ability of citizens and local authorities to work together and the potential of adapting existing opportunities to the goals of energy communities (e.g business models)’. This way citizens who invest in energy transition can understand how profitable this is for them. 

The development and adoption of energy communities is still facing some challenges. Nonetheless projects like TANDEMS or UP-STAIRS develop mechanisms to facilitate growth of energy communities. Thanks to that the potential for these communities to contribute to sustainable energy practices and local economic development remains significant.