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In the context of fighting the climate change and reducing emissions of greenhouse gases, the use of renewable energy sources is essential. Yet the varying and uncertain nature of these sources entails the design and the implementation of a new model of the energy network. The old centralised energy distribution system is transitioning towards a smaller-scale, decentralised and democratized system, where individual prosumers can have a direct link to the power network. Energy communities appear to be meeting the need of new decentralized energy ‘ecosystems’, as well as being beneficial to every stakeholder of these communities.
However, energy communities are in various stages of the development throughout Europe. Apart from a few countries (e.g. Austria, Slovenia, Denmark, Germany or the Netherlands), most projects are still in their infancy. Therefore stronger frameworks need to be provided, at local, national, and international levels, and people need to be informed about energy communities benefits and encouraged to take part in them.
Current Regulation Framework
Different types of energy communities are defined on European or national levels (e.g. renewable energy communities (RECs), citizen energy communities (CECs), local energy communities (LECs)). Some projects have already seen the light of the day and new opportunities, new roles and networks have been observed. For example, consumers are able to generate power from renewable energy and thus become ‘prosumers’, and collaborative organisation can take on the management of local grids.
Energy communities intend to place the consumer at the heart of the energy transition, as is required by the Clean Energy for all Europeans Package (European Commission, 2016). Thus, they have been defined and regulated in two directives: the recast Renewable Energy Directive (2018/2001) and the recast Electricity Market Directive (2019/944). The first Directive defines renewable energy communities as autonomous communities based on open and voluntary participation where members and shareholders, who are located in the proximity of the renewable energy projects, have effective control over the community. The second Directive defines citizen energy communities in a similar way with two major differences: the notion of the proximity of the member or shareholder of the community is not mentioned, and the energy projects can include other sources of energy than renewables. The current European legislation leaves space for national interpretation and implementation of energy communities in order to let the Member States organise and support new projects of energy communities.
Potential Benefits of Energy Communities
Energy communities of any kind can bring numerous benefits to its members. Economically, they create employment opportunities and local value by revitalising the local economy and increase the security of supply. Environmentally, the local energy production aims at reducing greenhouse gases emissions and thus prevent air pollution. And socially, energy communities promote education regarding energy saving and efficiency, foster energy autonomy, create energy democracy (e.g. with the cooperative principle one member-one vote), energy justice by addressing the energy poverty (which can be ensured by affordable energy for all consumers), and they can also build up social cohesion and trust. This variety of benefits, on top of the development of sustainable energy technologies, can also favour the change toward the decentralisation of the energy network.