As an initiative of citizens, who bring together resources for sustainable projects, we, ZuidtrAnt, a Belgian energy community with almost 10 years of experience, know first hand the uncertainties connected with joining energy communities. Nevertheless after years of working in the field of providing local and renewable energy to all members of the society, we can confidently stand behind our social purpose and fill you in on the benefits of joining an energy community.
Energy Independence? Energy or Independence?
One of the most important reason to join an energy community is energy independence. By that we mean the ability to generate and distribute your own energy, but also have an in-depth understanding of energy transition and the future of renewable energy. Energy cooperatives involve members in every step of development. They give households personalised assessments or advice and home-owners decide what kind of involvement they would like to have. There are cases, where an energy cooperative plans to renovate a whole neighbourhood, but even then each residents can decide to what extent they want to be involved in the energy community. Those residents, who decide to be involved are given tools, adive and guidance. Energy cooperatives always work on a local level, which takes into consideration the local circumstances.
Economy, skills and resilience.
Another ideologically less sexy but nevertheless relevant aspect is, of course, economic advantage. On one hand being a part of an energy community lowers energy prices and provides members with stable bills. This is because energy communities prioritize social value or member benefits over profit maximization. On the other hand, however, economic advantage also relates to the general participation in energy transition. For example the truth is that each European government wants to reach carbon neutrality goals.
In the words of Ursula Von der Leyen, president of the European Union, ‘The Green Deal is about cutting emissions, but also about creating jobs and boosting innovation. […] The old growth model based on fossil fuels is out of date and out of touch with our planet. We want to be the frontrunners in climate friendly industries, in clean technologies, in green financing. Our goal is to […] make it work for the people […] and be sure that no one is left behind‘.
Energy communities become the best vehicle for this because they allow citizens to have an active impact in the transition, becoming the makers of change rather than passive receivers of consequences. Local residents learn new skills and become more resilient. That means that they are able to sustain a comfortable way of living even when the surrounding industry undergoes change.
Neighbourhood and social cohesion.
Finally, energy communities, at least the way we organise them, are about neighbourhood cohesion. Working together towards a goal, which gives advantages to all is a very fulfilling task and forms lasting relationships. Neighbourhood cohesion, however, also means the ability to become self-sufficient in terms of employment or circulation of resources. By way of illustration ZuidtrAnt collaborated with Opnieuw & Co, a non-profit local recycling/thrift company in the suburb of Mortsel, to renovate a building called Shed 409 into a circular hub with social impact. Thanks to the installation of 350 solar panels and in the future stationary batteries, Opnieuw & Co can offer affordable alternatives to new products, create new employment opportunities, up skill residents and distribute any of their solar energy to shops in other locations.
To conclude being a member of an energy community has multiple long term and short term benefits. The crucial aspect is that joining an energy community is not a lonely task and existing energy cooperatives and organisations working with energy transition support this process through ongoing guidance. Energy communities are the best vehicles for a fossil free society with affordable energy. At ZuidrAnt we are happy to push forward this transition. And we want to that together with you.