Getting involved in Energy Communities
This post summarises the outcomes of the report Mapping of the relevant stakeholders, needs and drives for the implementation of CEC. This report, available on the Lightness website, is an analysis of the national and local markets to identify local actors. It is focused on the barriers, expectations and needs of citizens getting involved in energy communities.
Setting up Energy Communities (EC) implies the development of technical solutions that should go hand in hand with a process to engage, motivate and inform citizens and all interested parties on the benefits of participating in an EC. Given that stakeholders have the ability to determine the success of ECs, the first step in ensuring their active involvement and engagement is to identify their needs, drivers and barriers. With this clear objective, a survey was carried out in the five member countries of the Lightness project by means of interviews and questionnaires addressed to over 30 stakeholders.
Through such field work, five macro-categories of stakeholders were identified. The first being the Public Authorities, that represent a wide range of stakeholders from national policy makers to those at a local level, such as municipalities that often coordinate the ECs. The second group includes Distribution System Operators (DSOs) and energy retailers, who play a key role as energy suppliers and providers of services critical to the uptake of ECs. The third group Commercial Developers is made up of different categories of entities that provide support and financial tools (e.g., crowdfunding platforms and Energy Services Companies), provision of technological infrastructure for community management such as renewable generation plants, smart meters, and software for the management of energy flows and flexibility services. The fourth group consists of third sector organizations, that often support with the social engagement dimension of ECs and raise awareness about the environmental aspects. The fifth group consists of organizations such as NGOs, associations, research centers, and universities, who contribute both in the development of technical solutions and in the dissemination of knowledge and information on the topic. Finally, citizens at large represent the beating heart of ECs, as active members and end-users.
Once the stakeholders have been identified, the next step is to understand what hinders and what drives them towards an active participation in ECs. Obviously, these aspects can vary significantly depending on the category of stakeholder and the national context in which they operate. Considering specifically the citizens as protagonists, from the survey it is possible to collect some highlights to consider in defining new ECs and in the process of developing an effective engagement strategy.
The most significant barriers to citizen participation in ECs are:
- Lack of knowledge about the mechanisms that regulate the energy market and the energy system;
- Lack of knowledge and/or interest in environmental sustainability and renewable energy issues;
- Concern that the activities to be carried out for ECs are time-consuming, especially from an administrative bureaucratic point of view;
- Difficulties in fully understanding how ECs work and what potential benefits (especially financial) they can achieve.
On the other hand, critical drivers to citizen participation in ECs are:
- The opportunity to gain financial benefits mainly from the reduction of electricity bills;
- The mitigation of the environmental impact through the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions along with the involvement in an energy transition;
- Increase the thermal comfort of households, by reducing energy costs and energy efficiency measures at a lower cost through the intermediation of the ECs;
- The possibility through the EC to be supplied by locally produced energy, increase energy sufficiency and secure energy supply;
- Support the local community environmentally, economically and socially by reducing local pollutant emissions, as well as supporting local businesses and disadvantaged citizens.
Taking into consideration several inputs from citizens, the key aspect that emerged during the survey is the need of end-users to receive information on the ECs in a simple and comprehensive way. It emerges that the ability to communicate to end-users is a key factor in stimulating citizens to participate. Specifically, the aspects on which community members should be informed concern:
- Potential energy savings, production of energy from renewable sources and reduction of environmental impact;
- Potential financial savings;
- Overall participation benefits, and costs in terms of time investment;
- Clear rules and procedures for the EC.
Understanding and considering citizens’ barriers and expectations is a crucial element to start local community energy projects. From this point of view, citizens represent the ECs’ engine and therefore their expectations and needs should be fully understood. Nevertheless, around ECs there are a wide range of other stakeholders whose needs should be considered for a successful engagement that could create value for the whole local community. With this goal in mind, the full report of the survey will be published in the coming months; it will include a detailed analysis of barriers and drivers of both citizens and the other categories of stakeholders involved in the ECs ecosystem.