Energy co-ops are on the rise – and they are coming together to innovate

Paul Monaghan attended the REScoop conference, which looked at promoting energy efficiency, sustainable investment and smart grids

Energy co-ops are in a bullish mood and are focused on sector-wide growth.

Last week, I attended the General Assembly of REScoop – the European federation of renewable energy co-operatives – on behalf of Co-op Energy and also as an elected director of Community Energy England.

One of the discussion points was that around half of the European Union population will be producing their own energy in the next 40 years, according to the European Renewable Energies Federation.

The figures predict that over 264 million European citizens could produce their own energy in 2050, meeting 45% of Europe’s electricity demand. The discussion was all very upbeat and heartening, although all gains made to date are still in play, with legislative proposals subject to amendments from the European Parliament in the near future.

The Assembly meeting took place on 12 June at the University of Girona’s Science and Technology Park, which acts as the home of Spain’s inspirational energy co-op, Som Energia. The co-op has recently raised in excess of €2m for solar, wind and energy projects at a time when there is not only zero support from national government, but a host of obstacles.

Related: Interview with David Bird, chief executive of Co-op Energy

The Assembly kicked off with the heartening news that REScoop has grown to 39 members from across Europe, six of whom are from the UK – and include Co-op Energy, Community Energy England, Energy4All and Carbon Coop.

The mood of the meeting was bullish given REScoop’s influence in the EU corridors of power in Brussels and Strasbourg has never been higher. Advocacy work is strong and growing, as witnessed by the central role of the “citizen” in the EU’s energy proposals of December 2016 (for example in the new Renewables Directive).

Energy co-ops are continuing the push for renewables

Previously, community energy was not recognised at all in EU legislation – and now we are seeing the emergence of citizen rights to participate in renewables production and other activities across the energy system.

The European Commission is now even on record as saying: “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.”

Dirk Vansintjan, the president of REScoop, thinks the omens have never been better, saying: “The presence of so many of the REScoop members from across Europe reflects the growing importance of the impact of the federation, not only on the grassroots level but also on the ‘Brussels’ level.”

The Assembly also received updates on the impact of a number of cross-border projects:

Energy efficiency

REScoop Plus is a three-year EU-funded project promoting energy efficiency as a value creating activity across Europe and is well advanced.

The project involves energy co-ops (such as France’s enercoop and Belgium’s ecopower) across eight countries and aims to build a toolbox to enable others to implement energy efficiency services to their members. Best practices have been newly identified and these will now be scrutinised and used to build tools for energy co-ops across Europe.

A prime mover in REScoop Plus is Siward Zomer, who said: “In REScoop Plus we are researching the energy saving of members of energy co-ops.

The data research is showing that among members, REScoops achieve up to 20% energy savings. Another goal is the dissemination of this knowledge to other REScoops. Technical tools and energy-saving approaches are in high demand with other REScoops who are now taking up energy savings among members as an important aspect of the organisation.”

Sustainable energy investment

MECISE (Mobilising European Citizens to Invest in Sustainable Energy) is looking how to encourage and enable access to finance, and involves six co-ops (one of which is the UK’s Energy4All) from four member states.

It aims to create an investment portfolio that leads to €110m being deployed in support of renewables and energy efficiency. It is reaching out to municipalities and the opportunities for co-finance: such as with the six large turbines that Belgium’s ecopower is moving forward with the communities of Amel and Bullingen.

Smart grids

WiseGRID aims to provide a set of solutions and technologies to increase the smartness, stability and security of an open, consumer-centric European energy grid.

Ideas include electric car-pooling schemes

Electric cars

A REScoop Mobility Network is looking at pairing electric vehicle car pools with energy generation co-operatives.

Delegates also heard from countries across Europe, which gave an overview of national initiatives.

Netherlands is still enjoying strong community energy growth – where community solar-PV tripled in 2016, and wind is set to double over the next 12 months.

Citizen-owned energy projects in Germany have just won the vast bulk (95%) of contracts in an 800MW onshore wind energy auction – although it is not yet clear how many of these are energy co-operatives.

In Spain and France, Som Energia and enercoop respectively continue to grow, with now some 50,000 customers each.

Denmark continues to be light years ahead of district heating: with co-ops entering locales with package solutions and low finance loans and realising carbon dioxide savings of two tonnes carbon dioxide per household per annum.

In the UK, Co-op Energy now has a stonking 400,000 customers – and the business more than 40 power purchase agreements in place with community energy generators.

And perhaps most exciting of all at this year’s Assembly was the emergence of cross-border support being provided from one energy
co-operative to another.

There was a real sense of solidarity reaching across countries; be that the UK’s Co-op Energy sharing its Power Purchase Agreement approach with Spain’s Som Energia, or Belgium’s ecopower providing the financial guarantees that enabled France’s enercoop to unlock bank finance.

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