Considering the recent energy crisis and rising energy prices, the topic of affordable energy has become more prevalent than ever. Companies, governments, and individuals explore actions to reduce energy consumption. They took up the challenge of driving the energy transition, and the search for alternative sources of energy could comprise. Although the media presents a well-rounded and balanced debate, still too little space is given to energy communities (EC) and the role of governments and policies in enabling the creation of ECs in Europe.
Why are community-led projects important?
Within the complex and nowadays uncertain world of energy production concepts such as citizen-led, collective, or equal citizen participation can sound intimidating and daunting. Considering that the process of normalizing energy communities is still quite new, these reactions are understandable. This paper, by students from business management and environmental studies, shines a light on the concept of energy communities, which are based on a collaboration between citizens, governments, and businesses for a clean energy transition. Even though these initiatives are not so popularized, they are, as pointed out by Sara Giovanni from Energy Cities a European learning community for future-proof cities, making a great contribution to fight climate change.
In fact, currently, the speed of climate change is accelerating so fast that, according to Elmqvist et al., we must ready ourselves to enter an age of unprecedented transformative solutions, where confusion and vagueness is avoided. Energy communities, with their participatory and transparent information exchange, give power to the people themselves. This leads to, as stated by Feinberg et al, community resilience and better adaptability to socio-ecological issues.
What are some of the current challenges?
Prominent issues within the process of promotion of energy communities are first the lack of easy access to information, which means a need for an active search, which is difficult without having any prior knowledge. Another problem, as pointed out by Wahlund and Palm from Lund University, is the bias towards a decentralized energy model and an underrepresentation of energy communities within the mainstream media. What follows, as presented by the results of this study from two Universities in the Netherlands, is the lack of trust of the wider public towards EC’s and thus an indifference towards taking an active role in the energy transition.
Additionally, as claimed by Feinberg et al, energy communities require social cohesion, trust, and clear communication, which can sometimes prove difficult in a globalised world. With masses of people continuously changing their place of living, cooperative action must have better organisation, more proactivity, and increased attentiveness. Knowledge exchange and knowledge distribution, as believed by John S. Edwards from Aston University in Birmingham, are also factors that urgently need development. The way information circulated among communities, as maintained by William King in his Ph.D research at Coventry University, should take into consideration theoretical frameworks, type of language used, and more approachable glossary, which can inspire citizen science.
What are some of the existing enabling frameworks?
On the brighter side, however, for those who already have sprouts of interest in EC’s there are various sources including this repository from European Federation for Agencies and Regions for Energy and Environment. The repository aims to give an insight into not only the examples but also various publications and updates related to Energy Communities. Another, more general example of an informative database is the Projects for Public Spaces website, which brings together a wide array of community-led projects from all over the world.
Furthermore, considering the participative aspect of ECs, members of energy communities themselves are actors, who hold the biggest levers of change. Citizens with an in-depth understanding of the circumstances of their networks and neighbors are often involved in energy community projects already. This has resulted, as presented by this research paper from the University of Bologna, in quite a large number of attempts being made in order to create EC’s and improve communication between them. Many studies, like this one, have also been conducted in order to analyse new methods of knowledge sharing within the energy industry and changes, which can be made to adjust the sector to 21st-century standards.
Although energy transition is a well-established and urgent matter, it is still in many aspects in its early stages. This is why projects like TANDEMS focuses on establishing methods of mainstreaming this niche market and focuses on increasing the speed with which current traditional and centralized energy systems are transformed into a community-led, collaborative effort.