As the great and the good of Europe’s community energy movement gathered in Paris at COP21. There was a palpable sense of optimism given the successful development of the Paris Agreement, and the encouragement this could provide the sector.
The French hosts were in particularly good spirits given the recent passage of legislation to support the transition énergétique. The architect of the changes, the French Environment Minister, Ségolène Royal, had even broke off from the COP21 negotiations to emphasise the importance of emerging energy co-operatives such as enercoop, which is now taking on a thousand customers a month.
Community energy is in particularly rude health in Denmark, where there are now over a thousand energy co-operatives and almost two-thirds of households receive their warmth from co-operative district heating schemes. Erik Christiansen, president of the totemic Middelgrunden offshore windfarm, said the key to growth had been the de-politicisation of renewable energy, such that even centre-right politicians refer to support for the sector as the golden egg of energy policy. Yes, growth has been underpinned by Right to Invest legislation, but project developers often offer a 50-60% stake in windfarms to local communities, not the mandated minimum of 20%.
Previously, Germany had been a hotbed of community energy activity, but the growth of genossenschaften (co-operatives) has been curtailed in the past two years by the over-zealous implementation of an EU Investment Directive (a situation now thankfully resolved favourably) and the introduction of competitive tendering to Feed-in Tariff allocations. The sector is still enormous (DGRV reports that there are now 795 German energy co-operatives, with almost 1,000MW of capacity between them), but future growth will require a change in national government policy and safeguards against the advantages enjoyed by commercial operators.
On the downside, the situation in Spain is bleak. Not only is there no meaningful renewable energy subsidy support, but output is taxed. So, the continued growth of Som Energia (which now has 30,000 customers) is nothing short of remarkable – and perhaps shows a means by which the sector might continue to progress in the UK.
In total, there are now some 2,800 energy co-operatives across Europe according to REScoop. And, as the size and scale of the sector has become better appreciated, so too has the political support it can muster.
The European Commission’s plans for an Energy Union offer fresh new opportunities, stating positively: “Our vision is of an Energy Union with citizens at its core, where citizens take ownership of the energy transition, benefit from new technologies to reduce their bills, participate actively in the market, and where vulnerable consumers are protected.”
Fine words indeed, but words that need translating into actions as the EU Energy Market Design emerges. It would be a shame if “citizen-involvement” meant little more than households bearing solar-PV panels. An opportunity exists to press the case for equitable and transparent economic participation by all Europeans through democratically governed and jointly owned energy organisations.
Perhaps, as one door closes at Westminster and another opens in Brussels, it’s worth remembering that the UK’s growth in renewable energy was driven in large part by the EU Renewable Energy Directive and the requirement that we meet 15% of energy needs from renewables by 2020. Lifted by COP21 and the Paris Agreement, and working through the likes of REScoop and Cooperatives Europe, the community energy sectors across Europe intend to co-ordinate as never before and press the case for a renewable energy revolution.
- You can find all of our COP21 coverage here, including news, reviews and analysis.
In this article
- community energy
- community energy movement
- energy co-operatives
- Energy economics
- Energy policy
- energy transition
- Energy Union
- Environment Minister
- Environmental social science
- Erik Christiansen
- European Commission
- European Union
- Feed-in Tariff
- owned energy organisations
- Renewable energy
- Renewable energy policy
- United Kingdom
- United Kingdom
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