The vital importance of the intangible element of citizen energy: collaboration.

The implementation of energy communities, which, through their use of renewable energy, are fighting climate change, is challenging. It requires local policies, technological availability, space and funds. Nevertheless it also requires one element, which drives it all and that is community readiness and willingness for collaboration. In this article we will dwell into the importance of collaboration in energy communities (EC’s) and what it looks like in the field.

Why collaborate?

Collaboration is, as pointed out in the title, an intangible element of project work. In this case it means that it is the action of working with someone to produce something. Although the action itself is not material, it is essential and fundamental to the effectiveness of a project. Thanks to collaborative efforts, EC’s are able to benefit from bringing together diverse perspectives and expertise to help them grow. Additionally a community, which has a strong teamwork, enhances its resilience against disruptions and can withstand challenges a lot better. Of course working in a form of a partnership also has a larger environmental, but also policy impact. Namely, it allows for a faster achievement of energy transition goals.

Collaboration in practice

In energy communities collaboration can have different forms. Members collaborate with each other, EC’s have strong partnerships with local governments or municipalities and clean energy consultants create well established systems of local networks. To exemplify, we would like to present our partner ZuidtrAnt. They had a particular form of a collaboration, which resulted in the building of a strong foundation for cooperative heat energy. In April of this year ZuidtrAnt-W collaborated with the municipality of Ranst. They investigated the possibility of extracting heat from their canal and recovering residual heat from companies in an industrial zone. You can read more about it here. Thanks to the cooperation with Ranst, ZuidtrAnt managed to push forward their concept of shared energy further. Residents, employees and other interested parties got the chance to invest in a heating network. This furthered the energy transition efforts.

Collaboration and knowledge exchange

One aspect, which collaboration is a particular catalyst of, is knowledge exchange. A strong sense of cooperation among EC members invites new and existing members to contribute ideas, resources and efforts towards common energy goals. That is because community collaborations create spaces for open communication and information sharing. Energy communities such as e.g. Otterbeek by Klimaan and City of Mechelen, have regular meetings. There, members or their representatives have a chance to share their fears, but also come up with solutions, which contribute to a collective pool of knowledge.

Our partners also exemplified this principle during our consortium meeting in Doetinchem, where they presented the concept of a ‘Learning Workshop’. The aim of the workshop was to ‘capture the experiences of those pilots, which are already at an advanced stage of collaboration between local authorities and energy communities’. Participants were asked to share their key events during their time as members of an energy community. They reviewed the events and then worked together to establish the most important events and most notable lessons they have learned from those events. On a small, controlled scale, the workshop presents how a collaborative effort or community is the best vessel for the advancement of sustainable energy practices. 

To sum up, collaboration within energy communities is crucial for promoting sustainability, driving innovation, reducing costs, and building resilience against energy-related challenges. It’s a cornerstone for achieving collective goals towards a more sustainable energy future.