What is a ‘just energy transition’?

Change, especially in already economically and socially uncertain times, can make us feel fearful of the future. It is therefore understandable that the idea of energy transition, which steers away from the current status-quo, makes the public wonder about the security of their jobs, their status in the civic sphere, the well-being of their loved ones or their rights. This is why TANDEMS, along with other energy community focused projects, encourages a just energy transition, which ensures fairness and inclusivity. This article explores in detail how this goal can be achieved and what steps can be taken to maximize the positive opportunities of energy transition for all.

Status Quo

In the recent years EC‘s became a unique type of actor. They operate based on not for profit principles and democratic way of organising people. This does not mesh with the existing way of doing things, which focuses on commercial entities and maximisation of profits. Aditionally the current national frameworks built around energy communities and energy transition are, according to Josh Roberts, a policy expert in the European Federation of Energy Cooperatives, causing a lot of uncertainty towards these two concepts. That is because there is a lack of clear definition, financial models or social adaptation process. Many individuals, therefore, consider energy communities to be a new and uncertain future for the energy market.

Nonetheless, energy communities transform the concept of energy from a commodity to a basic need. They allow citizens to create a model, where they take control of the production of this basic needs, which, in turn, gives them economic freedom. This freedom is achieved through a process, where all stakeholders including citizens, governments, businesses and industry are engaged in a dialogue. It creates policies and framework in an egalitarian way, making energy communities an effective model for a just energy transition.

Just Energy Transition

A just energy transition focuses on ensuring that all groups in the society can benefit from the energy transition. It concentrates on reducing the possible costs of energy transition. At the same time it maximizes the possibilities for all members of the society to participate, leaving no one behind. Special focus is put on vulnerable or marginalised people. These social groups already have limited resources and will be mostly touched by energy market changes. A just energy transition includes, among other, providing appropriate subsidies and financial help to those who cannot invest, but want to be members of energy communities. Another example is providing socio-technical training opportunities for professional workers.

A great illustratory example is the membership policy of TANDEMS partner, Klimaan. Klimaan is an energy cooperative in the region of Mechelen, Belgium. On their website the cooperative ensures that ‘Everyone – regardless of background, level of education, financial situation, etc – must be able to participate in the much-needed transition to a local and renewable energy supply‘. Klimaan has a very low price of shares. Additionally the strength of one‘s voting right is not depended on the amount of shares bought. That means that voting rights are not dependend on each persons financial situation. Rather, their willingness to participate in a clean energy transition. This makes the functioning of the cooperative a very democratic and egalitarian process.

Towards inclusivity and participation

One way of achieving a just energy transition is through empowering citizen participation and involvement. Within the TANDEMS project, the work package, which is mostly focused on this is WP 4 named ‘Strengthening and supporting citizen initiatives‘ and led by Duneworks. In one of TANDEMS internal inspiration session, Jordan Young from Duneworks detailed ways in which energy justice can be achieved by basing his findings on Dunework’s other energy communities-focused project, Lightness. According to Jordan a fair transition can be achieved when the opportunities, barriers and conditions of all social groups are recognised. This should be followed by creating a strategy, where all people are given a chance to equally participate. In practice this means granting citizens access to information that will ease their understanding of what the energy transition can mean for them and what they require to meaningfully participate.

Good Practices

Establishing a step-by-step guideline to achieve a just energy transition is an ongoing, but a tricky process. Each country has their own social, economic and energy situation. Agents of energy transition want to take that uniqueness into consideration rather than forcing a one size fits all solution. This is why, under the current circumstances, a lot more focus is placed on sharing good practice stories. These, rather than giving instructions, provide inspiration for others.

One of this example is a TANDEMS partner, ZuidtrAnt. They illustrate the standards of a just energy transition for multiple reasons, including their overall involvement in the neighbourhoods. The energy cooperative works together with social welfare and social housing companies and participate in projects with social value such as repair cafes and renovation coaching process, financially supporting a citizens initiative aimed at energy efficiency or other. They also ensure that they scope of work is local and limited geographically. It increases resource density and thus ability to distribute opportunities more equally.

A just energy transition places the citizen in the forefront of clean energy directive. Agents of the energy transition, including municipalities, energy communities and citizens themselves, can build sustainable changes. They should, however, ensure that everyone is given a chance to fully understand the costs and benefits. They should also give opportunities to cultivate skills, confidence and capacities.