The transition towards renewable energy can play a key role in meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement of limiting the rise of global average temperatures to below two degrees Celsius, as pointed out by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
And while fossil fuels currently account for over 75% of global greenhouse gas emissions and nearly 90% of all carbon dioxide emissions, there are some signs of progress. The International Energy Agency predicts the share of renewables in the global power generation mix will rise from 29% in 2022 to 35% in 2025.
In the EU 22% of the energy consumed in 2021 was generated from renewable sources, according to EEA. The European Green Deal set the objective of making Europe a climate-neutral continent by 2050. Some countries are further ahead than others. With the highest share among the EU member states in 2021, Sweden had more than half of its energy from renewable sources in its gross final consumption of energy (62.6 %). Next came Finland (43.1 %) and Latvia (42.1 %). Meanwhile, Luxembourg (11.7 %), followed by Malta (12.2 %) and the Netherlands (12.3 %) had the lowest shares in the EU.
One of the main pioneers of this renewable energy transition is REScoop, the European federation of citizen energy co-operatives.
The past 12 months have been busy for REScoop, which celebrated its 10th anniversary at a recent Community Energy Spring Gathering in Athens.
The event brought together energy communities from across Europe to explore best practices and exchange information on how to get projects off the ground.
The gathering featured two streams, one aimed at community leaders from Eastern Europe and the Balkans to consolidate and support the community energy movement in the region, and another targeted at more established (or advanced) energy communities and members of REScoop.eu.
The 23 thematic workshops covered topics such as policy and advocacy, collaboration between municipalities and energy communities, reimagining economic systems beyond profit, and integrating social and gender justice in energy communities. Participants were also introduced to key tools for co-operative organising, policy and legal frameworks, public financing opportunities, tackling energy poverty and community engagement and storytelling. Many of the 200 community energy participants also supported the local co-operative economy by staying at Welcommon Hostel where various side events took place.
REScoop president Dirk Vansintjan said: “Ten years ago a handful of citizen energy co-operatives from across Europe founded REScoop.eu to give a voice to a few thousands of bottom-up initiatives, but also to spread the community energy movement across the whole of Europe. At the EU level, impressive legislative and regulatory progress has been made, which is now being transposed and implemented in the member states.
“We hope that in the coming years this inevitably will lead to the growth of the movement, not in the least in Eastern Europe and the Balkans.”
REScoop recently launched a Financing Tracker to assess whether and how EU public funds, such as the Recovery and Resilience Fund, Cohesion & Regional Development Funds, and the Modernisation Fund are being used by member states to support energy communities. The initiative is the result of a collaboration between REScoop.eu, CEE Bankwatch Network, and Climate Action Network.
So far, REScoop’s research has covered 19 member states. However, as the research advances, all EU27 will be included in the financing tracker.
A 2020 study published in Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews found that EU citizens could mobilise up to €240bn towards the energy transition by 2030. Environmental consultancy firm CE Delft also estimates that by 2050, one in two EU citizens could be producing their own energy, covering 45% of the EU’s demand.
REScoop hopes its Tracker can be used as an advocacy tool by national campaigners, and as a clear communication roadmap for policymakers. And while the federation has already identified certain countries such as Germany, Ireland and the Netherlands, where EU funds are not used to support energy communities, it also found that these states have robust national support frameworks for energy communities in place.
The EU’s Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF) was launched to mitigate the economic and social impact of Covid-19 and make European economies and societies more sustainable, resilient and better prepared for the challenges and opportunities of the green and digital transitions.
RRF, which is funded through loans secured by the European Commission on behalf of the EU, entered into force on 19 February 2021. To benefit from the support of the Facility, member states had to submit their recovery and resilience plans to the European Commission, setting out the reforms and investments to be implemented by the end of 2026.
The initiative represents an important opportunity for renewable energy co-ops since the Commission’s guidance on the plans calls for 37% of funds to be allocated to climate action (including renewable energy). The Commission’s guidelines also highlight energy communities as vehicles to tackle energy poverty.
REScoop’s financing tracker will be frequently updated with new developments in how countries implement EU public funds in their national financing programmes.
The apex separates states into four categories based on their use of the RRF: member states with no mentions of energy communities or related concepts in the targeted operational programmes (Ireland, France, Germany, Netherlands, Slovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Slovenia, Croatia, Malta); member states that mentioned energy communities in their programs but in a very limited capacity (Hungary); member states that added energy communities to their programmes but limited to a specific type of actor or activity (Italy, Portugal, Greece, Czechia); and member states that included energy communities in their programmes, with specific programmes targeting their needs, with a full scope of activities and actors included (Spain, Poland and Lithuania).
Rescoop used 12 sub-criteria for its analysis, touching on various topics such as broader programme design, transparency, and alignment with transposition.
Based on its findings to date, RESCoop calls on all EU member states to dedicate specific EU public funds to support energy communities, setting quantitative, time-bound goals for their growth. It also advises that funds “should support primarily energy communities that fulfil certain social and environmental criteria” and “no public EU funds should support fossil fuels (as is the case with the Modernisation Fund in countries like the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Romania and others).”