Our Finnish pilot project is focusing on a renewable community energy system for the new Husulanmäki Communal housing area. Located in a picturesque forest area in the vicinity of lake Lapinjärvi, it offers an enjoyable and peaceful contrast to the urban city environment. The planned housing area includes about 12 houses that will be co-constructed. How this could look like, you can see in this fantastic video – it is in Finnish, but you can gather many impressions just by watching.
Staying with the topic of international cooperation and exchange: partners from our projects in Finland and Estonia also met last week in a webinar to report on their successes and challenges and how they might learn from each other. The Finnish partners from “Green Net Finland“ are in the process of establishing a new community in the municipality of Lapinjärvi and are currently investigating the best ways of how to provide the community with geothermal heating.
The Estonian partners from “Tartu Regional Energy Agency” (TREA) are working with the Tartu municipality to create Estonia’s first energy community through a community-owned solar PV park on the roof of an apartment building. The engagement of local municipalities provided a great base for discussion: While in Estonia, Tartu municipality is one of the main initiators of the project and the first one to do so, in Finland it is already more established for municipalities to be owners of local energy plants, and thus they’re operating mostly in a commercial interest.
Another shared issue in both projects is the profitability of investments into community energy. A recent study commissioned by Green Net Finland has shown that more energy consumption generally leads to more profitability as well as cost and CO2-emission savings, with individual heat pumps in fact being most profitable. Also TREA reports that consuming self-produced energy as opposed to selling it to the grid is more lucrative. The partners agreed that more involvement of the regional and national governments is necessary to support the further development of community energy and guarantee its profitability.
Baltic Sea Region meets North Sea Region: in a webinar last week, projects from the UK and Denmark provided inspiration for co-operation between successful projects in engaging citizens towards a clean energy transition.
Our danish project partner, Middelfart Municipality, is also part of the fellow Interreg project EMPOWER 2.0 and organised the online event. It was visited by participants from Lithuania, the UK, Germany and Denmark.
The two solar energy projects “Solar Together Essex”, which coordinates group-buying schemes for rooftop solar panels, and “Sol over Brenderup”, a community energy project, have both realized about 1MW of solar installations and plan to expand in the future. The representatives spoke about their project’s story, success and challenges. Unsurprisingly, with the UK project taking a top-down and the Danish taking a bottom-up approach, the initiators face different challenges along the way.
Citizens from the village Brenderup (DK) presented tips and tricks on how they successfully established their own solar park. The presentation was a good example of a YIMBY way (Yes In My BackYard). One of the project founders stated that financing and all the applications surrounding the project were the big challenges in the beginning. Equally, acquiring all the relevant knowledge as someone new to the field was time consuming and dependent on intermediaries, such as Middelfart Municipality.
The presentation from Essex county (UK), also part of EMPOWER, demonstrated how citizens can make their own collective group purchase of solar PV on their own rooftops, as collective action. You could say this was a YOMRT way (Yes On My Roof Top). Conversely, the challenge to “Solar Together Essex” is reaching potential buyers. In their experience, the more personal, but also more expensive, targeted letter resulted in higher response rate, when compared to giving out leaflets.
On May 18th Henner Busch represented the Co2mmunity project at an online panel discussion organised by the DECIDE General Assembly. Topic of interests were barriers and regulatory issues to community energy across EU Member States.
Henner talked about the differences across the Baltic Sea Region regarding community energy. For example, implementing CE projects remains difficult in countries with a soviet history. This is due to the centralised and large-scale energy production systems, as well as negative connotations to collective organisations. Here regulations will not address the hesitation of citizens to get involved in energy projects, but time and best-practice projects are more likely to result in a cultural shift in that respect.
Henner emphasized that besides a good regulatory framework, independent intermediaries have a reinforcing effect due to knowledge transfer and targeted support that make establishing new projects easier for citizens. #balticsearegion
Earlier this month, Kaunas Regional Energy Agency (KREA), together with the Lithuanian Ministry of Energy, organized a webinar about renewable energy communities. Advantages, challenges, and associated obstacles were discussed in detail relating to establishing such communities.
Speaker Lina Sveklaite, senior adviser of Climate Change Management Group, presented an overview of the establishment, potential benefits, and available state support. Renewable energy expert Paulius Petrašiūnas shared information about the platform, “Powering”, which is expected to be a practical tool for establishing such communities and helping to manage their activities.
An impressive turnout of over thirty individuals attended the webinar, with representatives from local action groups, communities, NGO’s and commercial entities. These attendees actively provided questions and suggestions on how to improve the regulation surrounding renewable energy communities.
More information, in Lithuanian, can be found here.
Within the German pilot project, the Heinrich-Böll-Foundation Schleswig-Holstein (SH) acts as a facilitator for civil society to engage in democratic debates. They foster energy transition by empowering citizens through practice-oriented courses, building regional and local energy networks, and encouraging citizen initiatives.
The local RENCOP (renewable energy cooperative partnership) is built a little differently than in our other pilot projects. Here, it presents a regional strategic network and entails key regional civil society actors – such as the Country Women’s Association. In the following, we present to you what they have been working on.
What does cooking have to do with renewable energy, you might wonder. At first glance maybe not much, yet the way we eat can have a significant impact on the climate. That’s why the Country Women’s Association together with the Heinrich-Böll-Foundation SH formed the group “Treffpunkt des Guten Geschmacks” (meeting place for good taste) to create a cooking-app and provide people the ability to know and eat what’s good – for us, the region and the climate.
The result is a climate-friendly, seasonal, and regional cooking app that helps to reduce the individual CO2-footprint and improve working conditions in the supply chain. Long transport routes, refrigeration, and storage become almost needless by consciously choosing regional and seasonal products over imported ones. Thus, it puts a focus on the often unnoticed local diversity of fruits and vegetables and inspires people to (re-)discover, for example topinambour, wild garlic, or parsnip.
Providing suitable recipes for every season, the app is scheduled to be published in autumn 2021 and will invite everyone to participate, try recipes, add new ones, and exchange their tasty experiences.
To give you an inspiration, here’s a recipe that the group has tried already: Turnip with a mustard-sugar-crust. Looks tasty, doesn’t it?
Raised garden bed at Anscharpark, Kiel
Another project that was born out of the local network is a raised garden bed at Anscharpark, Kiel. Jochen Bock, the gardener from Nordkolleg in Rendsburg who initiated the project, provided wood from hist own spruce forest, while local waste management supplied the compost ground. Herbs, vegetables and all kinds of edible plants can grow here. Aiming at making gardening available as an experience and self-empowerment exercise, it enables people to see food grow in real-time and receive a hands-on understanding of the effort it takes. Immediately, the garden bed received a lot of positive feedback from the local community. Who knows, maybe this could even grow into a bigger urban gardening project beyond Anscharpark.
The exploratory study investigates “how the current situation affects the work of transition intermediaries in the energy sector”. The article is based on the data collected between January and October 2020 in the Co2mmunity project and how Covid-19 policies impact community energy projects, was the concrete objective of this research.
The results show that these impacts are divers. One central topic was the ability to build trust. Here the already established projects, with a strong trust base, were least affected by the restrictions. Another factor was the source of financing, privately funded projects had bigger difficulty than publically funded organisations.
The authors, Henner Busch and Teis Hansen, state that “these findings can help governments, intermediary organizations and citizen groups to design future transition processes in ways that are more resilient to external shocks”.
You can download the full article on this site.
Background: What does community energy look like in Lithuania?
In Lithuania, the description of an energy community and the principles of its operation are defined by law: “Renewable energy community means any independent legal entity with the purpose of operating a non-profit organization that owns, develops, consumes, stores and sells energy from renewable sources in nearby renewable energy installations.”
The main goal set by the national energy independence strategy is to provide 45% of energy consumption with renewable energy by 2030. For example, collective electricity production in solar power plants is not sufficiently developed in Lithuania, however, very favorable conditions have been created for individuals and legal entities to become prosumers, with increased quotas and flexible pricing for grid access.
Through the Co2mmunity program, an expert-driven RENCOP (Renewable ENergy Cooperative Partnership) has been established in Lithuania with members including two universities, representatives from municipalities, and national associations (renewable energy, solar energy), and three private companies engaged in renewable energy technology. The RENCOP has focused on raising awareness of community energy projects and clarifying social, financial, and ecological benefits.
What are the challenges for community energy in Pagramantis?
Since 2018, the formation of an energy community in the municipality of Pagramantis has been in the making. As of now, the community continues to conduct electricity-consumption studies and source financial sources for its Photovoltaic renewable energy project.
However, the Pagramantis community is not a business entity, but rather a consortium of persons who are living in this village – while being registered as a (non-commercial) legal entity. This is the most important issue regarding the definition of community energy: as part of the law, it is required to establish a legal commercial entity, i.e. a non-profit public organization. That means, the profit must go to the benefit of the shareholders, but no financial gain is possible for the investors. So while all shareholders in the community invested their own money, the profit can solely be reinvested in the development of the solar park or other ways to improve the wellbeing of the entire community. This is the reason why the model is not business-friendly.
What are the next steps?
Our local partners continue to work with urban and rural communities to find more pilot cases, educate about the possible benefits, and develop renewable energy projects in general. They are in on-going communication with public administration representatives and offer informative webinars for housing associations about solar PV models and government-supported financing options.
What is still needed is a clearer and more business-friendly definition of a renewable energy community, its objectives, and area of operation. Furthermore, the partners are working on a better strategy to identify and support possible energy communities in apartment communities, as well as more ways of raising the interest of municipalities. Lastly, greater support and participation are needed regarding the granting of bank loans and the electricity distribution network operators.