Community energy is a solution to spiraling energy bills – here’s how Sardinia did it
One of the main concerns of European citizens today is how they will pay their energy bills. In the UK, costs soared 215% last year, while the EU average is 41%. While UK residents are suffering the most, no one has it easy.
There is a lot of manners reduce your bills by consuming less energy. But there is a more drastic way. One way that builds community, saves you money, and gives a satisfying sense of self-sufficiency: community energy.
What is community energy?
Community energy is a system where citizens produce their own renewable power and share the benefits (energy and money) within the community.
It’s less complicated than oil and gas majors would like you to think about. The community, whatever its size, founds a cooperative. A cooperative is a business model where the members jointly own the organization, rather than the capitalist model of owners and shareholders.
The new cooperative installs a renewable power system, such as solar panels, and the profits come from the energy created. All members can then buy the energy, get a share of the profits, and they collectively decide where to invest and how to set the prices.
One million European citizens are involved in creating their own energy, either as members, investors or customers. By 2050, this could increase to 260 million people and community energy could generate up to 45% of Europe. electricity.
Sardinia saw a gap in a monopolized market
The Italian island of Sardinia was ripe to become energetically independent because he did not gas Provisions. Energy companies love to fill a void in the market, so there have been attempts to build gas pipelines here, but all have failed so far.
On a recent trip there, I got the impression that Sardinians are self-sufficient types. The island is dotted with ‘nuraghi’, ancient stone towers built to claim the surrounding land as belonging to a community. Whether it’s demarcating land or creating their own energy, Sardinians don’t wait for the authorities to do it for them.
The solar farms in two Sardinian villages, Ussaramanna and Villanovaforru, feel like modern monuments to the power of perseverance.
Locals Can’t Believe There’s Really No Cost for Community Power
Feasibility studies are the first step in determining if a community can create its own energy – are the buildings facing in the right direction to capture sunlight? Is there an electric cabin nearby to transport the energy to houses and businesses?
So if we build it, will they come? Local residents are needed as members of the cooperative, whether they sign up to use the energy produced or simply get a share of the profits as investors.
Marco Sideri, mayor of Ussamanna, invited his local community to a meeting in January 2021, once it was confirmed that putting photovoltaic panels on a local school would work. The main concern of the participants was what it would cost them.
We are all so used to paying someone else to manage our energy supply that they couldn’t believe that becoming a member was not only free, but that every housework was likely to earn €130 a year from what they sold to the network.
Some feared having to accept signs being installed in their homes. Sideri says they were “relieved to learn it was a possibility but not a requirement.”
In fact, members of cooperatives across Europe generally like their homes to be at the center of energy production. While the wind wind turbines in a nearby field can draw anger, roof panels you consent to and control are a source of pride.
Once their initial worries were assuaged, Sideri says locals were thrilled to be “the hero of their own story.” Within three months of the meeting, 55 households and 5 local businesses had registered. By November, the panels had been installed, paid for with EU money.
Here’s the catch: the panels are still not connected to the grid in any of the Sardinian villages due to bureaucratic delays. In the meantime, the solar energy generated can only be used to power the buildings on which they are mounted, which is called self-consumption. In Villanovaforru, where the panels are mounted on a school, this represents only 5% of the energy consumed by the building.
The utility company responsible, Enel Group, said Villanovaforru had now completed all the paperwork and would be connected to the grid “in the coming weeks”. They say that “the municipality of Ussamanna still has to send documents”.
Along with the democratization of energy production, community energy projects often create green jobs locally. It’s a breath of fresh air in Sardinia, where young people rarely consider staying on the island once their education is finished.
Community energy is a local solution to a global problem
The benefits of community energy extend far beyond the local area. Transition away from fossil fuels is a key element in the fight against climate crisis.
The outdoor clothing brand Patagonia calls community energy “an essential climate solution”. They have directly funded projects across Europe and are encouraging people to start more with their rousing short documentary ‘We The Power’. In the open and generous spirit of the brand, it is free to watch and can be projected without authorization.
What does a clothing brand have to do with energy production? Well, they use a lot themselves of course, in their stores and desks. As you would expect they have their own house in order with the majority of the electricity they use coming from renewable energy tariffs and some even purchased directly from community energy suppliers in Italy, Germany, Ireland and France.
Patagonia says, “We know that the prevailing model of large energy companies and fossil fuel production must change if Europe is to have any chance of achieving net zero CO2. emissions level required by 2050, in order to stabilize climate change at 1.5°C.
How can you start your own community energy project?
If you want to try starting your own project, you won’t be alone. There are many organizations that offer free advice and support.
If you are in continental Europe, Rescooper is the best place to start. It is the European federation of 1,900 citizen energy cooperatives, representing more than 1.25 million citizens.
“Don’t waste time struggling with problems that someone else has already solved” is their mantra. So they pass best practices energy cooperatives across the continent. They have a big guide to regaining powerproduced with Friends of the Earth and Patagonia, and available in nine languages. here are existing energy cooperatives in your country.
In the UK, the situation is more delicate because community energy projects cannot currently sell the energy they generate directly to local populations. They have to sell it to a utility company who then resells it to their customers. This is despite the huge potential of community renewables to benefit local economies in the UK.
power for people is a British NGO campaigning for a rapid transition to 100% clean energy. They drafted the Local Electricity Bill which would give electricity producers the right to become local suppliers. You can support the bill here.
What if you can’t start your own community energy project?
Don’t worry, you often don’t need to live in the area where the local energy project is to join or investor. Look for projects in your country and see which ones you can join as a member.
Many renewable energy projects need volunteers and also offer paid roles. Repowering install solar panels on surrounding buildings London and carry out training programs with young people and in schools, including training for green jobs. They need members, volunteers and often staff. Subscribe to their broadcast list to hear about new opportunities.
How to keep the lights on as energy bills rise
Engaging citizens in community energy requires a change of mindset. When we leaf through a light switch, most of us never think about where the electricity just. We just pay the bill at the end of the month and leave the rest to the energy giants.
Community energy reverses this power imbalance. Instead, energy is generated from the natural resources that surround the buildings in which we live and work. Then the energy giants pay the community for the excess energy sold to them. Members of energy cooperatives say it is an extremely uplifting feeling. He is taking over, literally.