Blueprint for communally owned wind energy.

The normalization of making wind energy a communal asset is a slow process in Europe due to social, financial and legislative factors. Thus, the ownership of onshore wind power is still mainly in the hands of big and commercialized investment companies. Due to the fact that this is a hindrance to a just energy transition, the article looks into this issue. It analyses current barricades and opportunities as well as looks into good practices, which can act as blueprints for communally owned wind energy.

(Wind) POWER to the PEOPLE!

Cooperative, citizen ownership of wind energy is a very important element of the democratization and decentralization of energy ownership. Energy communities (EC) have the capacity to distribute resources in a fair and just way. That means citizens are able to consume harvested power at beneficial and stable rate. They can also engage from the beginning in the decision making processes. Self-reliability also means that citizens become increasingly creative with their shared assets. In many cases EC’s become places of innovative activities, which can transpire outwards. Mark Bolinger in his paper on community wind power ownership schemes, additionally points out that when wind power is cooperatively, but also locally owned it has more direct benefits to the community and is more socially accepted.

So, whats going on?

According to Schreuer and Sammer in their review ‘Energy cooperatives and local ownership in the field of renewable energy technologies‘, there are examples of onshore wind energy cooperatives in Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden and Germany and also in other countries such as Belgium. Nevertheless despite having such good precendents, the amount of citizen-owned wind energy is still quite low. This is caused by multiple obstacles.

First of all, in many EU countries, such as Germany, wind turbines, and thus ownership of wind energy, is typically sold in a bidding process to those, who put in the best bid. Usually, due to access to funds, the winning bidders include institutional investors such as banks, insurance companies, investment funds etc. These institutions, unlike energy cooperatives, work on a commercial level with the intention of making a profit. Although less concerned with the just energy transition concept, these companies are able to offer local jobs, finance training schemes and invest in large wind farms rather than individual turbines. EC’s on the contrary, are not investing in wind turbines for profit, rather for a fair energy price and in most cases are not financially dependent solely on the cooperative. The result is that EC’s end up owning one or two wind turbines, while large corporations swallow the rest.

Another big problem is that onshore wind energy is still quite under exploited. Little public acceptance and legislative constraints are among many factors that cause this. Many citizens still fear the impact of wind turbines on the landscape and the discomfort of the noise. Additionally legislative frameworks define minimum distance of wind turbines from built-up areas, which, in many countries, significantly shrinks the available space.

Opportunities and good practice examples

Many efforts are put into counteracting the current wind power obstacles. Additionally energy transition agents put parallel efforts into finding alternatives. One of the recent solutions is to increase the investment in offshore wind turbines. Offshore wind farms do not have the issues of proximity to built-up regions and therefore engineers can erect more turbines. Additional benefits of this type of wind power is that there are much more wind resources (wind is much stronger) at high sea. This generates much more energy. One government, which is using this advantage is the Belgian government. They are pushing for and encouraging citizen participation in large offshore wind farms. In order to do that they engage renewable energy communities.

Two of TANDEMS partners, ZuidtrAnt and Klimaan are benefiting from this resolution. They participate in a Belgian cooperative social enterprise SeaCoop. SeaCoop is founded by 33 renewable citizen initiatives. It focuses on giving people control over the production and use of energy from the North Sea at an affordable price. More specifically the coopertive aims to bring wind electricity to households and SME’s via cooperative suppliers.

Cooperating on an international level

This decision of the Belgian government comes days before the Ostend Declaration. The declaration recognises the ‘importance of North Sea in the energy transition and that collaboration between the involved countries (Belgium, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, France, Ireland, Luxembourg, Norway and the UK) will be instrumental in accelerating energy transition’. Basically the declaration calls for more cooperation between participating countries. Additionally a more integrated European energy market and more investment in research and innovation. The Ostend Declaration paired with Belgians government resolution to involve citizens in ownership of wind energy can be a breakthrough for introducing new models and frameworks on how communities can be more democratically involved in production, distribution and usage of renewable energy.

Wind power is a crucial source of renewable energy. Nevertheless communally owned and shared wind energy infrastructure still needs a lot of legislative and infrastructural changes. However, innovations, which the TANDEMS partners are participating in, is a step forward. Successful examples such as SeaCoop are great pilot projects. They, through experimentation, lay down architecture that others can build up on.

What is a ‘just energy transition’?

Change, especially in already economically and socially uncertain times, can make us feel fearful of the future. It is therefore understandable that the idea of energy transition, which steers away from the current status-quo, makes the public wonder about the security of their jobs, their status in the civic sphere, the well-being of their loved ones or their rights. This is why TANDEMS, along with other energy community focused projects, encourages a just energy transition, which ensures fairness and inclusivity. This article explores in detail how this goal can be achieved and what steps can be taken to maximize the positive opportunities of energy transition for all.

Status Quo

In the recent years EC‘s became a unique type of actor. They operate based on not for profit principles and democratic way of organising people. This does not mesh with the existing way of doing things, which focuses on commercial entities and maximisation of profits. Aditionally the current national frameworks built around energy communities and energy transition are, according to Josh Roberts, a policy expert in the European Federation of Energy Cooperatives, causing a lot of uncertainty towards these two concepts. That is because there is a lack of clear definition, financial models or social adaptation process. Many individuals, therefore, consider energy communities to be a new and uncertain future for the energy market.

Nonetheless, energy communities transform the concept of energy from a commodity to a basic need. They allow citizens to create a model, where they take control of the production of this basic needs, which, in turn, gives them economic freedom. This freedom is achieved through a process, where all stakeholders including citizens, governments, businesses and industry are engaged in a dialogue. It creates policies and framework in an egalitarian way, making energy communities an effective model for a just energy transition.

Just Energy Transition

A just energy transition focuses on ensuring that all groups in the society can benefit from the energy transition. It concentrates on reducing the possible costs of energy transition. At the same time it maximizes the possibilities for all members of the society to participate, leaving no one behind. Special focus is put on vulnerable or marginalised people. These social groups already have limited resources and will be mostly touched by energy market changes. A just energy transition includes, among other, providing appropriate subsidies and financial help to those who cannot invest, but want to be members of energy communities. Another example is providing socio-technical training opportunities for professional workers.

A great illustratory example is the membership policy of TANDEMS partner, Klimaan. Klimaan is an energy cooperative in the region of Mechelen, Belgium. On their website the cooperative ensures that ‘Everyone – regardless of background, level of education, financial situation, etc – must be able to participate in the much-needed transition to a local and renewable energy supply‘. Klimaan has a very low price of shares. Additionally the strength of one‘s voting right is not depended on the amount of shares bought. That means that voting rights are not dependend on each persons financial situation. Rather, their willingness to participate in a clean energy transition. This makes the functioning of the cooperative a very democratic and egalitarian process.

Towards inclusivity and participation

One way of achieving a just energy transition is through empowering citizen participation and involvement. Within the TANDEMS project, the work package, which is mostly focused on this is WP 4 named ‘Strengthening and supporting citizen initiatives‘ and led by Duneworks. In one of TANDEMS internal inspiration session, Jordan Young from Duneworks detailed ways in which energy justice can be achieved by basing his findings on Dunework’s other energy communities-focused project, Lightness. According to Jordan a fair transition can be achieved when the opportunities, barriers and conditions of all social groups are recognised. This should be followed by creating a strategy, where all people are given a chance to equally participate. In practice this means granting citizens access to information that will ease their understanding of what the energy transition can mean for them and what they require to meaningfully participate.

Good Practices

Establishing a step-by-step guideline to achieve a just energy transition is an ongoing, but a tricky process. Each country has their own social, economic and energy situation. Agents of energy transition want to take that uniqueness into consideration rather than forcing a one size fits all solution. This is why, under the current circumstances, a lot more focus is placed on sharing good practice stories. These, rather than giving instructions, provide inspiration for others.

One of this example is a TANDEMS partner, ZuidtrAnt. They illustrate the standards of a just energy transition for multiple reasons, including their overall involvement in the neighbourhoods. The energy cooperative works together with social welfare and social housing companies and participate in projects with social value such as repair cafes and renovation coaching process, financially supporting a citizens initiative aimed at energy efficiency or other. They also ensure that they scope of work is local and limited geographically. It increases resource density and thus ability to distribute opportunities more equally.

A just energy transition places the citizen in the forefront of clean energy directive. Agents of the energy transition, including municipalities, energy communities and citizens themselves, can build sustainable changes. They should, however, ensure that everyone is given a chance to fully understand the costs and benefits. They should also give opportunities to cultivate skills, confidence and capacities.

Energy Communities reorganising the current Energy Market.

‘In the recent years Energy Communities (EC‘s) became a unique type of actor, which operates based on not for profit principles and democratic way of organising people. Due to the fact that this does not mesh with the existing way of doing things, which focuses on commercial entities and maximisation of profits, energy communities are considered to be a new and uncertain future for the energy market.’
Josh Roberts, Senior Policy Advisor at

The reorganisation of the energy market involves legislative changes and the disruption of the current energy flow. Many countries still organise policies in a way that lacks a direct link between energy producers and consumers. Energy providers have, therefore, control over pricing. The restructuring of this system is strategic in providing citizens with stable energy prices. It also supports sustainable and renewable energy transition. What do energy communities need to become vehicles of this reorganisation? This article explores this concept by focusing on infrastructure, business models and energy flow.

The Middle Man

In the current energy market decentralized and distributed energy production and consumption is still often legislatively and municipally unsupported. Sharing of energy with through a middle man called energy provider causes a lack of direct link between energy consumers and producers. These providers buy energy at market price from current energy communities, but sell it at higher rates. As an energy consumer, you participate financially in an energy community, but through an energy provider. The only way of consumers to know where their energy comes from is thanks to the GOO (Guarantee of Origin). The GOO is an ‘EU guarantee that any given amount of power is produced at a particular power plant. It is a voluntary certification allowing consumers to choose a source of production. Typically the choice being between renewable and non-renewable electricity’.

Independence from the current energy market consists of producing and consuming your own energy without the involvement of energy providers, who influence the price. Consuming your own sustainable energy at a cost price decreases the cost of energy as a whole. It also decreases the risk of rising energy prices in the future. It can also increase the acceptance of wind and solar farms because of the direct benefits for local communities. 

Best practice example

In one of TANDEMS partner regions, Achterhoek (NL), this model is already in place for the municipalities (Agem Gemeentelijke Energy). This is an organisation, which started in 2017. It uses landfill gas and solar panels to supply energy to eight municipalities at a cost price. It also does not involve commercial parties. The Achterhoek municipalities are the first in the Netherlands to have introduced the ‘Self-delivery model’. This is where municipalities simply use the energy they generate. This is a unique model that other regions in the Netherlands and other EU regions can adapt and recreate.


Access to appropriate infrastructure and technological advancement is another milestone in being able to administratively and legally consume your own energy. This access if often hindered by a lack of appropriate business models or financial support. Novel tools, which allow for the decentralization of energy production and consumption on a big scale, require economic commitment. This is unavailable for some energy communities, which are mainly made up of local citizens. This is why in TANDEMS we understand that sharing of new technological solutions along with lists of best practices is so crutial. Alongside creating a network of information exchange TANDEMS forms new business models and tests them on pilot sites, paving the way for normalization of independent energy production and consumption.

Independence from commercial market players requires appropriate infrastructure, which is already present in certain countries such as the Netherlands. Legal frameworks should give more freedom to the consumer, which is currently lacking in many EU countries. The objective is to make this model accessible to consumers and businesses. The processes/models developed in this TANDEMS will inspire replication in Belgium, Bulgaria (TANDEMS partners) and in the future other European states.

The energy market in the hands of the citizens. Interview with OurPower.

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. We sat down with Hemma Beiser, a managing director and co-founder of OurPower for an interview.

Can you introduce yourself and OurPower?

My name is Hemma Bieser and I am the managing director and co-founder of OurPower Energy Cooperative, which is based in Vienna, Austria. We started in 2018 out of the urgency to actively involve citizens to shape the energy transition. We noticed that the current measures taken by governments, big corporations and companies were not enough. In fact we are convinced that energy transition is not only about inventing and introducing new technologies. It is a huge social transformation, so we need more people to participate in this process of social innovation.

How many members do you currently have and what does your membership procedure look like?

Currently we have over 800 members, who have different reasons and motivations to join the cooperative. There are three categories of members:

Everyone can join the OurPower Cooperative. The minimum amount is 100 Euro. We have established a simple and digital onboarding process on our website Since we are a European Coop, people from all over Europe can be part of our community.

We invest the money of our members mainly to develop the marketplace (in 3 phases) and new services, as well as for the growth of our community. The current investment sum is around 830.00 Euro. Our next funding goal is to reach the 900.000 Euro by the end of this year. So, we invite everybody to join us and to support our idea!

How do you keep such a large community connected?

That is a very interesting point. Initially we had a lot of plans to organise community events, but the Covid-19 pandemic radically changed our plans. So again we switched to digital means and between 2020 and 2021 we interacted with our community online. Actually in 2021 we organised a session about ‘Women in Energy Transition’. The goal was to bring women, who are shaping the energy transition, on stage. In 2022 we had a series of dialogues about the energy market, the energy prices and their impact on our community.

We have learned that with online events we can reach much more people in and outside of Austria, so we will continue to organise them in addition to our quarterly on-site events in Vienna and in the Austrian regions.

Can you introduce us to your business/ collaboration model?

Our core business model is operating a peer to peer marketplace, which has been online since 2019 and is continuously improved with new services and features. On our market place producers of renewable energy, such as solar, wind or hydro power, can sell their electricity directly to family, friends and others. It is therefore a peer to peer market place, which is easy to use, but also comfortable for producers as well as customers who know directly where their electricity comes from.

What are or were your biggest challenges?

When we first started OurPower, Austrian citizens simply did not know about the concept of energy sharing and energy communities, meaning we had to explain these ideas to everyone. This changed in 2021 when Austria introduced the Erneuerbaren Ausbau Gesetz*. Now many more people understand this concept and organise energy community pilot projects. Second biggest challenge was of course the energy crisis.

*Renewable Energy Expansion Act, which aims to convert the country’s electricity supply to 100 percent electricity from renewable energy sources.

How did the energy crisis affect you?

As mentioned before our business model was aimed to make our marketplace attractive for both customers and producers, because we offered both sides a really fair price. With the energy crisis, the prices went higher and our producers also expected higher prices for their energy. However, if the producers raise their prices, the cost of kWh for customer is also bigger.

We therefore organised an online dialogue with both sides and asked them a simple question: According to your gut feeling, what is a fair price for electricity? A price which both the community can afford and which would keep the producers satisfied? Through online discussions we managed to provide and keep a really stable price, which was much lower thant the average energy market.

What does ‘just energy transition’ mean for you?

In OurPower we think that the energy transition is a really big transformation for the whole society. We think that everyone should be involved and everyone should profit. In order to become independent from gas and oil, we should focus on producing regional energy, which can be sold locally, so everyone can participate.

To illustrate, I would like to give you an example of a new product we are currently working on, the Sonnenweide. It is based on crowd investment in large PV powerplants located outside of Vienna. This means that if you are a member of OurPower, but you live in the city apartment and have no access to a rooftop for PV panels installation, you can still invest in a PV module, which is located on a large solar field owned by the community. Anyone can invest both large, but also smaller amounts. For us this is energy justice, where no matter your circumstances, you can still participate in the energy transition.

What are the next steps for your community?

Of course the next big step is the development of Sonnenweide. However, we also want to grow our marketplace, have more production of energy and of course more members. With more people we have a chance to have a bigger impact. That is why we plan to organise more dialogues, knowledge exchanges, communication and information sessions. We are also setting up new energy community projects and are actually launching three international projects funded by Horizon 2020. International work is very important for us, because we increase our impact and grow networks outside of Austria.

Hemma Beiser
Executive Director at OurPower

Why does it make sense to set up an Energy community?

As the world becomes more conscious of the ramifications of environmental pollution, the need for a greener and more sustainable energy system has never been more obvious. As a result, communities across the globe have started exploring alternative energy solutions to reduce their carbon footprint while saving costs on energy bills. One practical solution to achieving this is setting up an energy community. An energy community is a group of people, small businesses, and organizations that collaborate to generate, buy, and manage energy from renewable sources. The benefits of setting up an energy community are vast. Here are some reasons why it makes sense to take the initiative.

1. Cost savings

One of the most significant benefits of setting up an energy community is cost savings. By pooling resources, energy consumers can reduce the cost of installing and maintaining renewable energy infrastructure, and this translates to reduced energy costs for its members.

2. Decreased dependence on traditional energy sources

The world’s reliance on fossil fuels for energy generation is rapidly depleting as resources diminish, and the costs associated with conventional energy sources increase. Energy communities enable communities to generate their energy from renewable sources while reducing dependency on traditional energy sources.

3. Economic benefits

Energy communities create new jobs, generate revenue, promote local investment, and keep energy money within the community. Also, energy communities decrease multiple dependencies addressing key resources. This contributes to a location’s long-term attractiveness in the global competition between cities and regions.

4. Strengthened communities

Energy communities require collaboration and the active participation of their members, leading to improved community involvement and unparalleled community development. Some of the best methods for participation start from simply advising citizens. Others start from municipalities that already gain the citizens’ trust. Whatever approach they follow, energy communities result in enhanced knowledge exchange and a more resilient social texture.

In conclusion, setting up an energy community is a smart sustainable solution tackling the challenges of today’s world. It provides numerous benefits, including cost savings, decreased dependence on traditional energy sources and energy providers, environmental benefits, promotes community involvement, and economic benefits. With a collaborative effort and proper planning, energy communities can successfully achieve their sustainability goals. By doing so they lead the path to a decentralised green future.

Picture: Colourful pins on paper by MetsikGarden on Pixabay.

Scaling-up Energy Communities

Energy communities have become a popular concept that has been gaining momentum in recent years. These communities are creating a sustainable future by using renewable energy sources and reducing their dependence on fossil fuels. Scaling up these communities can be challenging, but it is necessary to make a significant impact. In this blog post, we discuss what is necessary to scale up energy communities and some examples of successful scaling.


To scale up energy communities, funding is essential. Many communities do not have the financial resources to invest in renewable energy sources or hire professionals to manage their systems. Governments and private investors must provide resources to develop and maintain community energy projects. Grants, loans, and other incentives are necessary to help finance these projects. What shall be considered from an energy communities point of view is to be clear about pricing to avoid funding gaps. Such funding gaps result from cheap energy supply or spikes in costs for maintenance necessary for the operation of renewable energy plants.

Public support

Public support is critical to scaling up energy communities. Residents must be aware of the benefits of renewable energy and the importance of reducing carbon emissions. Interviews with TANDEMS partners have shown that public support varies over time. It is not a constant that energy communities could build on. Also, the interviews have shown that citizens are more likely to kick off interaction with energy communities if approached by a representative whom they can identify with. Finally, communities must educate their residents on the benefits and challenges of renewable energy in the long term. When people understand the benefits, they are more likely to support community energy projects in their upscaling.

Technical expertise

Scaling up energy communities requires technical expertise to plan, design and implement renewable energy systems. This can be achieved using external partners or sustainability consultants such as Robin Doet; a company that develops and supervises sustainability projects. Indeed it provides advice on policy and pushes potential policy changes to enable the creation of energy communities. 

Furthermore, training programs build local expertise on how to ensure the sustainability of energy communities. This is exactly why in TANDEMS we implement train-the-trainer workshops.


Scaling up energy communities is essential to achieve a sustainable future. It requires funding, public support, and technical expertise. Examples of successful scaling demonstrate the potential to build such a cleaner and greener future. Day by day there are more people being involved in community-driven energy supply. So long this is true for Northern America and Europe. To facilitate a just energy transition for all, we should not forget about promoting decentralized and non-profit approaches to energy supply in the global South. The vision must be to ensure all future generations can afford and enjoy a cleaner and more sustainable tomorrow.

Picture: Solarstrom by Solarimo auf Pixabay 

Industrial Complex and Collective Housing: Green Energy Transition in Burgas

It was our great pleasure to pay a visit to Burgas, where the local municipality as well as the Center for Energy Efficiency EnEffect, hosted the project’s second consortium meeting between May and June 2023. Among site visits, idea sharing and interactive workshops, the consortium and external partners touched base to move the project forward.

Bulgaria’s thriving Black Sea coastal city, has a rich industrial history . It kicked-off with the establishment of the first oil refinery in Bulgaria in 1906. It was the birth of the countries petroleum industry. Over the years, Burgas has grown into a significant industrial hub. It encompasses sectors such as oil refining, chemical production, shipbuilding, and manufacturing. Then after the collapse of the UDSSR major parts of the industry collapsed as well. The economy suffered a major shock, had to be restructured and realigned.

In the recent years, however, it is also gaining its recognition for its innovative, sustainable, and green projects. These contribute to its fame as being increasingly liveable. Also it has, through a variety of projects, become a driver for clean energy transition and alternative energy production on a national scale. Ten years ago, old derelict industrial complexes were re-vitalised. Today, this re-vitalised industrial zone houses thirty-seven companies. They offer services ranging from food production through logistics, construction materials to car industry. As the zone is located along a protected lake area with diverse wildlife, all of the industry is environmentally friendly.

The Industrial Complex

The revitalised industrial zone is also were the city of Burgas is now building an Anaerobic Installation, a powerhouse building on organic waste. The idea is to turn organic waste coming from the large hotellery complexes along the Black Sea coast into energy. Topped with energy photovoltaic panels the powerhouse shall provide energy for the entire industrial zone. It is still under construction, but poised to revolutionize the city’s approach to waste management. The facility will incorporate advanced systems specifically designed for waste processing. It will utilize engineered tunnels where waste will decompose through the action of specialized bacteria in an oxygen-free environment. This groundbreaking process will yield valuable byproducts such as compost and methane, which will generate electricity, heat and fertilizers. Funding for the installation, including the building itself, as well as essential vehicles and organic bins, will be a combination of external funds and the municipality’s own investment.

The reason for choosing Burgas as a meeting spot for the TANDEMS Annual Meeting proved a wise choice. We were under the fantastic guidance of Ivaylo Trendafilov, who works for Strategic Development Department in the Burgas and EnEffect, the centre for energy efficiency. TANDEMS is an assemblage of sustainable energy enthusiasts from Austria, Belgium and Netherlands. Therefore thanks to our guides we had a chance to see two of the most prominent projects implemented to serve the purposes of the Clean Energy Directive. The first one being the Anaerobic Installation. The second one a collective housing complex close to the city center.

The focus of the renovation process here was to introduce energy efficiency measures.

Community Housing

In fact, quite some years ago already, the municipal administration had proposed several residential apartment renovations under a state program. In total that program offered funds worth one billion Euros for the renovation of multifamily buildings all over Bulgaria. The municipality granted that fund to one of the houses at the multifamily residential complex located at “Bratya Miladinovi”. Thanks to that the apartment complex implemented energy efficiency measures.

What make the renovation efforts an interesting case study for TANDEMS, are the challenges that come with citizens involvement. More precisely the challenge of cooperation. The Bratya Miladinovi complex has over 300 apartments, but only half of them were renovated. This is because the dwellers association, which applied for the project could not reach an agreement with all residents even though the municipality fully covered the renovations. These residents, who participated in the project, received a set of energy efficiency upgrades. These included isolation, woodwork, plaster work and refurbishment of common spaces such as staircases.  

The TANDEMS meeting

Inspired by the field visits, after return to our meeting venue in the middle of Burgas‘ green lung, there was also plenty of project-related work to be completed. Our focus: cooperation and sharing models in energy transition. Or, as we call it in TANDEMS: the development of an Open Collaboration Model (OCM).  The goal is to provide tools and guidelines that help local governments to work with citizen initiatives with implementing cooperative approaches facilitating the energy transition.

Inspired by the field visits, after return to our meeting venue in the middle of Burgas‘ green lung, there was also plenty of project-related work to be completed. Our focus: cooperation and sharing models in energy transition, or, as we call it in TANDEMS: the development of an Open Collaboration Model (OCM).  The goal herat is to provide tools and guidelines that help local governments to work with citizen initiatives with implementing cooperative approaches facilitating the energy transition.

The consortium worked on ways allowing to include all actors in the OCM in equal parts: the municipality, the citizens, and the businesses. How can good collaboration work if citizens do not feel empowered to not only envision, but also create their desired future? How can actors work together if there is no common narrative? The complexity of political and administrative and legal frameworks is adding a whole plathea of challenges to the case. However, with the project proceeding, we are confident about coming up with some great ideas.

The nZEB Roadshow Event

On the last day TANDEMS also took part in the nZEB Roadshow at the ‘The future of Energy Cooperatives in Bulgaria’ panel. The roadshow did offer the opportunity of gathering insights to other clean energy projects in Bulgaria. One of the presenters was Tsvetan Georgiev, co-founder of the first Bulgarian energy community IZGREI. He spoke about the administrative or legislative challenges of setting up an energy community, but also the successes such as joining the European Federation of Renewable Energy Cooperatives and connecting with a network of equally engaged citizens. Understanding each other’s challenges and opportunities, but also the hopes and prejudices that  come with energy cooperatives as well as learning from each other is the foundation of forming a holistic approach to energy transition in Europe.

We closed the meeting with a glass of beer at the beach after three  days. Intense days, but  also inspiring, productive and heartwarming. And this is yet another dimension of EU-funded projects. We have had the chance to sit together with sustainability enthusiasts, with people passionate about clean energy transition. Motivated to make a change. So, thanks again to our hosts, Ivaylo Trendafilov and EnEffect. Meanwhile, we look forward to continuing our journey!

The challenges, needs and ideas in regard to citizen engagement.

Report based on interviews conducted by DuneWorks for Work Package 4.

In February and March, Duneworks, the leader of Work Package 4 (WP4) titled ‘Strengthening and supporting citizen initiatives’, conducted interviews with all partners, asking them about the challenges, needs and ideas regarding citizen engagement in EC (Energy Communities). The article below is a summary of those results, giving the insight into the work of TANDEMS, but also an overview of what upcoming or existing EC’s should consider.

What are the challenges?

Due to the current geo-political circumstances the energy market and therefore everyone’s energy situation is very uncertain. Introducing the concept of a shared renewable energy model, no matter how beneficial to the community, can be met with apprehension laced with scepticism or even resistance. Many citizens feel safety when faced with familiarity. Therefore even though big energy companies raise prices in an often uncontrolled manner, causing more financial damage, citizens give them more support. After all, they have been primary energy providers for generations. Conversely energy communities are models, which in the legislative and financial world are novel. They often lack legislative frameworks or comprehensible business strategies. This, as assessed by partners, causes potential members to see more precariousness rather than stability.

Another important aspect is diversity. Energy transition touches everyone, but in a different way. On top of that each community consists of a huge variety of people from all kinds of backgrounds. When setting up an energy community, the needs of  each member have to be clarified, understood and agreed on. This, as asserted by the interviewees, can be demanding. Therefore the process of ‘putting the foot in’ is a big challenge. That’s because it opens up the question: How can we gain trust?

What are the needs?

Through deliberation the partners realized that engaging so-called ambassadors they can develop trust in energy communities. These are citizens, who are embedded in a certain community, but work closely with the EC’s and mediate any communication. These ambassadors are crucial. That’s because the levels of engagement of citizens can differ depending on the extent of involvement they want to have. Some members can choose to be more passive and have less responsibilities. Others want to take a more active role. In any case there always need to be representatives, who can act as main organisers, which keeps the EC well functioning.

Other identified needs included: improving the quality of meetings to less technical and finding the optimal time for all attendees. Also setting up tailored models of collaboration that work for everyone. Finally widening accessibility to a much wide-ranging group of people, including vulnerable households.

What are the needs?

Through the interviews the WP4 leader, Duneworks managed to compile some ideas, which can make citizen engagement more effective. One of the most prominent ones is the introduction of ambassadors, who understand the needs of their fellow residents. With the help of EC’s as well as municipalities, support citizens throughout each step, easing transition fear. The ambassador keeps close contact with the residents. Their tasks include holding internal meetings and collecting information about doubts, capabilities, time availability and so on.

Another important idea was the assertion of transparency. TANDEMS partners agreed that the EC’s as well as the municipality involved should provide full transparency about participation trajectory meaning. Citizens must have full understanding of the extent to which they can participate, what participation involves or how adjustable the whole process is. It is also important to involve citizens in the process at an early stage, already, during ideation and planning. It also helps when the communication is much more focused per target group, in terms of comprehensibility, but also recognition of what is being asked, what involvement is needed and what this practically means for the target group(s). 

Developing from this point WP4 leaders found out that citizen engagement can be improved by introducing a more appealing narrative, where citizens are able to attend meetings which apart from technicalities also show other examples of EC’s, their journeys and even precedents from other countries.

Through identifying the challenges and needs of citizen engagement, the partners, regardless of their location, pinned down the above ideas as most important in citizen engagement. The implementation of them, however requires a development of a coherent plan that introduces methods and instruments, which is what the TANDEMS consortium continues to work on.

TANDEMS Pilot Project: BioZon by AGEM

An interview with Justin Pagden from AGEM introducing the TANDEMS pilot.

Hello, please introduce yourself and AGEM. What have you been working on?

My name is Justin Pagden. I’m a business developer at Agem. Our company comprises of a team of professional energy enthusiasts. Together, we develop and provide services for energy communities and municipalities in the Achterhoek region of the Netherlands. Agem helps households and businesses to use energy in an efficient, sustainable and local manner. This ultimately results in lower (social) costs.

We have been working specifically with energy communities. Agem enables them to consume their own collectively produces energy at a cost price. We call this the cost price model.

How and why did you choose the location of your pilot?

We have been working on the cost price model for the municipalities for over 5 years now. We were eager to also implement this model in the context of a citizen energy community.

The first pilot, where we introduced the cost price model was the energy community of BioZon, Zelhem. This citizen energy community collectively owns and operates a small electric generator running on biogas from an old landfill. The energy was sold in a PPA (Power Purchase Agreement) to the municipality at a fixed price for a 5 year contract. The citizens that had invested in the installation received a reasonable return on investment.

The installation was producing more electricity than expected and agreed in the PPA contract with the municipality, so when energy prices soared, the question arose if it was possible to allocate this surplus of electricity to the citizens directly at a cost price. This would benefit the citizens immensely on their energy bill.

So we set out together to investigate the possibilities.

What models of collaboration do you use (how do you collaborate with the municipality and other actors? How do you share the work load? Who is responsible for what?)

Eight municipalities in Achterhoek initiated the funding of Agem in 2013. The municipalities created a cooperative company of which they were the shareholders and invested start up capital so the company could develop and provide products and services to accelerate the energy transition. In the last ten years, this has led, among many other things, to the development of up to 15 citizen energy communities in the region. BioZon in Zelhem being one of them. These energy communities have also taken a share in the Agem Cooperative, and therefore have become co-owners of the company.

Therefore, you could say that the main collaboration model is through co-ownership. Agem is the professional organization that provides the services to it’s shareholders, being the energy communities and the municipalities. They provide the governance, done by aldermen from the municipalities or citizens volunteering as board members of an energy community. 

What were and are the main challenges that you are facing when implementing this pilot?

We had all the pieces of the puzzle necessary to make the first cost price model available for citizens. Now all we had to do was to organize them in such a way that it would create the picture we had in mind. This involved getting all the different partners on the same page so that everyone could play their part. This took a considerable amount of deliberation and eventually trust to move forward. But in the end we were able to move fast and went live on the 1st of January 2023.

Everything worked as planned on the administrative end and the data was coming in perfectly, showing clearly the benefits of the cost price model, as apposed to the market model. Ironically, the engine broke down and had to be fixed which took several weeks. This forced us back to the energy market which shows clearly in the data and energy price paid by the consumers. Thankfully everything is up and running again and the energy community members can ones again profit from their own electricity at a cost price.

What feedback do you receive from citizens and how do you communicate with citizens about this pilot?

The Energy Experts at Agem work very closely on the project with the board members of BioZon. All the communications to the community members is coordinated or co-created with the board members of BioZon. We have used presentations at member meetings, video explainers and of course webpages and emails. Also, a new contract had te be signed by the members that wanted to participate.

The feedback from the members has been overwhelmingly positive. This is mainly because the communication has been clear, the members did not have to do much themselves and of course, because they benefit from the new situation.

What is next for this pilot?

When the PPA with the municipality has ended there will be more electricity available. The cost price model can then be expanded to include more citizens from the region. Also, the energy community of BioZon wants to invest in solar panels on the old landfill (hence the name BioSun).

For Agem, this pilot is a proof of concept, and shows clearly that the cost price model for citizens is possible. As happens in industry, the first prototype model is not made the same way as the large scare production model. That is also the case for this pilot.

The next step is to scale up and expand the model to other energy communities that also want to benefit from this model. As we write this we are working hard with our partners to be ready for this next phase of the implementation of the cost price model.

Discovering the Municipality of Gabrovo: Energy Communities in Bulgaria

Interview with Todor Popov, a lawyer with experience in project management for energy efficiency, sustainable management and clean energy and Vanya Lazarova, an expert in citizen participation and the use of ‘One-Stop-Shop’ model* in the field of European projects.  

Can you introduce us to Gabrovo Municipality and tell us why did you decide to participate in TANDEMS? 

Gabrovo, located in central Bulgaria, is a pioneer and leader in the field of energy efficiency and energy consumption optimisation. We opened the first passive kindergarten in Bulgaria or the first ESCO street lighting contract (Energy Savings Performance Contract). Gabrovo is Green Leaf award winner in 2021 and among the first 100 climate neutral EU cities by 2030. Hence, we have decided to participate in TANDEMS. TANDEMS aims to promote the development of energy communities as means of energy transition. We are looking forward to involving citizens, engaging local governments and policy makers. This is very important for a sustainable energy transition. However, apart from TANDEMS we partner also in another LIFE project; namely Life LOOPS. This project focuses on reducing regulatory barriers to energy development. It explores options for wind, biomass, microhydro as well as clean transport.  

Why do you think it is important to discuss and tackle clean energy, energy transition and energy communities?

The theme of energy transition and energy communities was presented as a natural continuation of policies to reduce the carbon footprint of human activity, as an opportunity to improve the economic and social situation of the local community, which from a consumer becomes an energy producer. Through energy communities, independence and stability are achieved. Currently in Bulgaria there are not so many restrictions to energy communities since there is a lack of legislative framework. On the other hand, this exact lack of legislation is also a huge challenge and obstacle for us.

Another difficulty is overcoming the lobbying of large energy companies. These companies have no interest in involving citizens and local communities as players in the energy market. This is quite the opposite of what we are trying to achieve. Citizens must be aware of their role and their opportunities. This is why which is why it is important to talk about this topic.  

Did you receive any feedback from citizens, municipalities or other actors? 

Feedback is still scarce. People do not have enough knowledge and information on the topic. Right now we can see that there is some positive some sceptical reaction to our work. I believe, however, that when we deepen our work with citizens, we will receive more concrete reaction. On the 27th and 28th of April we held a conference in Gabrovo entitled ‘Cooperation for the implementation of green policies’. Representatives of local companies, local authorities and NGO’s attended the conference. The Gabrovo Municipality was represented by Todor, who is the director of administrative, legal and information services, Zhana Bastreva and Maria Radoycheva, chief experts in ‘Infrastructure and Ecology.  

Cooperation for the Implementation of Green Policies

We presented Gabrovo’s policies in the field of environmental protection. Among our main themes was the topic of energy efficiency, renewable energy and opportunities for local communities. We discussed ways to collaborate in order to achieve clean, affordable and secure energy- in the form of energy communities. We also of course presented TANDEMS and LifeLOOP projects, their objectives and benefits as well as any challenges they entail.  

What are your next steps? 

We plan to hold a number of thematic meetings with citizens and representatives of different communities. We plan to invite trade unions, condominiums, small and medium sized enterprises, schools and so on. On 2nd of May we had an expert meeting between Municipality of Gabrovo and EnEffect, who is our partner. We discussed a potential pilot project, which would involve working with citizens. Our next step in this field would be scheduling a meeting with the citizens and several follow-up meetings in June. We hope to launch the implementation of the first pilor community in June.  

*One-Stop-Shop is a model offering multiple services in a centralized location. Citizens can access services in one place rather than in many dispersed places.