On 16th February, the City Transformation Community of El Día Después organised a multi-stakeholder workshop in order to identify what opportunities and barriers exist nowadays to generate a much more decisive push for energy communities.
In addition to town halls belonging to the community, representatives of private companies, cooperatives, academia and other stakeholders of the energy ecosystem took part in the workshop. This allowed us to share a global vision on energy communities, where they are and how we can contribute to accelerating them to achieve the global agenda and commitments established in the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement.
Why energy communities and why now
We know it is not possible to achieve an ambitious goal to decarbonise the economy and cities only with technological advances. Citizen participation is essential.
In the model of energy communities, citizens are placed at the centre of energy transition, and they are no longer passive consumers, but they are becoming part of the change. In addition, energy communities also represent a niche to generate quality, local employment and contribute to economic recovery after the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, the potential advantages of a wide dissemination of energy communities in Spain (and not only in Spain) go beyond generating jobs: they would allow to progress towards a 100% renewable electricity system, promote cost savings and accelerate the reduction of emissions in Spain; they would promote energy efficiency, reduce energy vulnerability and energy poverty and, finally, place citizens at the centre of the electricity system as prosumers, which would generate greater climate awareness within society.
So, what are the obstacles?
As in the case of any proposal that involves a paradigm shift, the list of obstacles can be quite long. Among others, the obstacles that emerged were, for example, the limitations of a regulation designed around a centralised production model; the lack of legal formulas that adequately respond to the concept of energy community; the lack of personnel trained in this kind of renewable technologies and management; or the need for financial innovation (public-private-social collaborations) to motivate citizens.
Yet, some inspiring experiences were also revealed, such as the two pilot projects launched in Valencia or Hacendera Solar in Castilfrio de la Sierra in Soria.
Local administrations, training and education are key, more than technology
One of the main conclusions was the role town halls have to generate change. Local administrations have a key role in facilitating and stimulating processes that are needed to promote energy communities in their area (both urban and rural areas). Furthermore, they can also have a pedagogical role by accompanying citizens in the transition of their role, from consumer to prosumer, as well as clarifying the environmental benefits of these new energy models, fiscal benefits, expenses, returns, etc.
For example, creating public offices for energy management could help awareness, training and management tasks, as well as enabling access to financial and management instruments. In addition, the role town halls have at this point can be key to making public capital available (depending on the areas) to address energy poverty.
One of the conclusions was that it is urgent to train professionals as new profiles will be needed… and the opportunity to connect these employment niches with the most vulnerable population strata and people at risk of social exclusion from the communities. In addition to helping to solve a socio-economic problem, training people rooted in the communities is key to generating trust, as for the majority of citizens it is a traditionally complex and opaque sector.
More needs to be invested in pedagogy than in silicon or boilers
It is necessary to generate a human community before an energy community
Using technologies will not be enough to reverse the lack of trust in the energy sector, so humane treatment is essential
This activity was part of the launch of the call for expressions of interest by the Spanish Ministry for Ecological Transition and Demographic Challenge (MITECO) with the aim of collecting proposals and information that facilitate the definition and specify the lines of action within the framework of the Recovery, Transformation and Resilience Plan (PRTR).
Summary of the workshop
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