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.

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!