DSOs as facilitators of European energy communities

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Distribution system operators (DSOs) are able to play a key role in fostering the development of energy communities with mutual benefits.

Energy communities are set to be a growing and important element in Europe’s energy future, with their development mandated in the Clean Energy Package.

The concept is not new, with more than 3,500 cooperative and community schemes known in Europe, but the structure is becoming more formalised with two types formally recognised in the package.

These communities, which must be established as legal entities, may either be formed by a community be it individuals or a municipality around a local project or by a more widespread group of interested people or enterprises (respectively ‘renewable energy communities’ and ‘citizens energy communities’ in EU parlance).

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While a key driver is the opportunity to benefit from the local generation of renewable energy, an additional incentive is emerging around the opportunity to trade energy and provide services to the grid .

For example, potential activities of the citizen energy communities envisaged in the EU legislation include, in addition to generation, distribution, aggregation, storage, energy efficiency services, electric vehicle charging services and others.

As the interface between the consumer, in this case the community, and the energy system, the DSO is a key partner in ensuring its integration. However, there are still some challenges to overcome, according to the DSO organisation E.DSO.

In a new position paper, E.DSO points to the need for close cooperation between DSOs and energy communities with the benefits contributing to a customer centric market model and to the energy transition as a whole.

However, a level playing field is needed for all customers, E.DSO states. Regular customers should not be disadvantaged for not being part of an energy community. Also, members of energy communities should have the same rights as non-members such as the right to switch supplier.

Such a level playing field should be ensured in the general principles specifying the shape of the energy community and its rights, obligations and responsibilities.

E.DSO says it believes that new players should be subject to fair and proportionate rules and should be covered by appropriate regulation where necessary. In other words, if energy communities intend to also take on DSO responsibilities, they should comply to the same regulatory requirements.

Cost reflective network tariffs also should apply to everyone equally, independent of whether a customer is part of an energy community or not.