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 www.ourpower.coop. 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.