The march of the European prosumer

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Areti Ntaradimou ponders the role of energy communities in the fulfilment of Europe’s Clean Energy Package.

Historically, Europe has always been an anthropocentric continent, placing the individual and the community
in the centre of its philosophical, sociological and economic ideas. Therefore, it should not come as a surprise to anyone that the European Commission does exactly the same on every level, including the one that interests us the most. That of the Energy Sector.

Since 2019 and as the European answer to the Paris Agreement, the Clean Energy Package brought to the table an enabling legislative framework for citizen and energy communities. Since then, community energy projects, mostly on renewable energy sources, have increased in number and have provided incentives and increased awareness.

Projects like ‘Clean Energy for EU Islands’ – that helps island communities transit to clean energy sources – or ‘FlexCoop’ – a complete demand response solution targeting energy cooperatives and their residential consumer-members – are sponsored by the EU Commission. And they engage citizens, reinforce social norms and support the energy transition.

As Achille Hannoset, DG Energy, says: “The purpose of energy communities is to provide value over profit. And this is very important to emphasize, as it is very much a social concept. In addition, they have a democratic participation structure because their work is based on the principle of openness, and voluntariness.”

The social innovation potential of energy communities also resides in the ability to allow access to consumers independently of their income or access to capital, and therefore ensure democratic participation in projects that are transforming the energy system.

Moreover, the European Commission’s Clean Energy for All Europeans Package confirms the prominent role prosumers and their collective forms will play in the future energy system. The EU legislative framework formally acknowledges and defines specific types of community energy as ‘renewable energy communities’ and ‘citizen energy communities’.

But how does the Clean Package envision the Energy Communities? According to Hannoset, “as a means to empower citizens in the energy transition, but also to accelerate the transition itself and increase the uptake of renewables.
And finally, as a way to also trigger energy-conscious behaviour, where people have control over their production and supply, and they take up more and more responsibility in the energy sector, so they don’t merely act out of economic self-interest anymore, but are also taking social responsibilities”.

A ‘social contract’ of this kind, establishing an energy community very much like the political community Rousseau envisioned in 1762, would need a robust regulatory framework in order to bloom and flourish. Not to mention to help deploy the renewable capacity at the scale necessary to reach our 2030 and 2050 targets.

THE PURPOSE OF ENERGY COMMUNITIES IS TO PROVIDE VALUE OVER PROFIT

ACHILLE HANNOSET

“What is needed in general,” says Hannoset, “is a framework that takes into account the special needs of prosumers and energy communities derived from their nonprofessional characters. They have limited financial means, limited technical resources and limited time available because it’s usually a side activity for them. The people involved in the energy communities have full-time jobs on the side. So what such a general framework might encompass are easy, accessible and streamlined procedures.

And with that, I’m thinking of licensing and grid access procedures, help for financing and getting the information needed, campaigns to inform local authorities and municipalities about the benefits that energy communities might bring to their particular city. And finally, special rights or exemptions on the support scheme for renewable energy communities”.

That said, one should also take into consideration that there are different member states in the European Union, with different levels of acceleration and progress regarding the energy transition. Should then the change happen at a local level first? “No,” says Hannoset. “It should happen simultaneously, both on a local and pan-European level, in order to achieve climate neutrality in a cost-effective and secure way”. And he is probably right because after all, it’s not like we have all the time in the world to adapt…

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