Renewable, equitable and collective energy sources: energy communities to overcome the dilemma of environmental transformation

The war in Ukraine places the issue of energy violently at the center of the political agendas of countries around the world. between the The different ways we can produce and consume energy locally from clean sourcesThere is one particularly interesting: Renewable Energy Communities (Cer).

Presented in 2019 in the EU package “Clean Energy for All Europeans” and implemented a few months later, on a trial basis, also in our country, CERs consist of the possibility of citizens Combined together to produce energy from renewable sources.

More than two years after its introduction, we decided to deepen the topic with a stretch case Custom, for exampleUnderstand if they work and where we are in their experiences and implementation. In this first article, we asked environmental science journalist Sergio Ferraris, Director of QualEnergia, to introduce the topic and explain what Italy’s energy communities are, how they operate and what prospects they have.

Sergio Ferraris
Energy communities, what are they?

Ferraris explains that energy communities “are the potential for citizens to come together to produce, consume or sell energy from renewable sources. The sources of production can be the most diverse: photovoltaic, wind, micro-hydro, although the most advanced sources are photovoltaic cells on rooftops, in abandoned areas, in apartment buildings.” It seems a logical concept, but before the transfer of the directive in Italy is officially banned. For Ferraris «It is a question of overcoming the historical gap that Italy suffers from“.

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fact, Some energy communities already exist, and they survive Nationalization in 1962: «They are mostly plants that have not been sold to Enel because they are located in the alpine arc regions, and are not profitable on delivery. They survived for years under the radar, then experienced an even greater splendor when the push for renewables arrived.” One of the most famous is the energy community in Campo Torres municipality, in South Tyrol, which, thanks to a local network powered by hydroelectric power, reduces the bills of its citizens by about 40-50%.

Moreover, Ferraris explain to us, “With isolated and independent grids, the power communities remained in operation in the great blackout of 2003”. Now, thanks to the new legislation, a new phase has opened that allows in an easy and efficient way to create new energy communities where citizens, administrations and companies can join forces to produce clean energy. “In the next few years, we hope to see the birth of large numbers: A study by Enel-Ambrosetti predicts that there will be 35,000 energy communities in our country by 2030“.

From individual commitment to collective

One of the most important aspects of this modernity is the transition from individual commitment to collective commitment: “We came from more than thirty years of Thatcherism – explains Ferraris – where the social imperative ‘society does not exist, there is ‘individual’. Individualism in this historical period was very strong, even in Italy and on the left, while Loss of meaning and value of collective goods“.

This approach is also reflected in environmental movements: “Even in environmental issues, there was a bombardment of individual solutions. But some problems can only be solved from a collective and political point of view. For example, I can do the best recycling out there, but if the policy doesn’t enforce strict laws on packaging and the use of plastic, my recycling business will be diluted and secondary.”

Energy community recommend 1
Riccomassimo Energy Community, in Trentino Alto Adige

With that in mind, The challenge for energy communities is also to return society, and society, to the center of environmental transformation. With all the difficulties of the issue due to the lack of habit of cooperation and the paucity of the prevalence of decision-making methods and collaborative governance systems, but also with new opportunities: “Social reform work to be done in the regions to bring together the themes of future energy societies will be important. This is evidenced by the use of less Much more than the potential of the Bonus 110 given the difficulty of the condominiums in reaching an agreement.”

However – the Ferraris continues – If it is used well, this is also a huge opportunity to hold togetheras evidenced by the recent Legambianti experience in Naples: in the capital of Naples, the creation of one of the first Italian energy communities was received by the citizens as a moment of socialization and social cohesion ».

In other words, energy communities, “by combining societal and technological aspects, can be a link between social and environmental problems and help us overcome the famous syndrome Nimbe (Not in my backyardnot in my garden, sotowards renewable energy sources. Another interesting aspect, according to Ferrari, has to do with the business world“In the future we will see local business groups producing their own energy. I think of the various departments of furniture in Veneto, of Sassuolo ceramics, for example.”

Some examples from abroad

In other countries, there are many examples, where CERs have been a source of cooperation and social cohesion, to draw inspiration from. Sergio Ferraris explored the question in an article for La nuova ecologia and reported on some of them. “In London for years, citizens have been gathering and putting pressure on institutions to They have rooftops, metro stations, schools and other unused remaining roofs to build their own energy communities. In Los Angeles, the energy community combined energy production with the fight against pollution thanks to the use of innovative technologies ».

Not to mention what could be The world’s number one energy community, in Denmark. “In 1974 in Tvind, a group of citizens gathered to fight nuclear power, they built a 2 megawatt wind turbine for 15 years that was the most powerful wind turbine in the world. They used an innovative design, which later became a standard for the whole country, and decided not to patent it, so that it could be reused and become a mass good. With this test, they stopped nuclear power in Denmark.”

energy community
Energy Community in Magliano Alpi

The strength of energy communities also lies in their ability to adapt to the specific context in which they operate. “This is also where the success lies; for example, among the more than 6-700 energy communities located in Scotland, in regions with a lot of wind and problems of poverty and unemployment, some projects based on wind turbines have been undertaken with three directives: Fighting poverty (and thus controlled) energy and electricity prices distributed within the community), fighting unemployment (through job offer within the energy community itself) and investment opportunity (for those who decide to invest money in it and want a return linked to the ethical dimension).”

In England instead, Energy communities have even been a way to “penetrate” the government’s liberal policiesConnecting it to citizens’ needs: “Photovoltaics in Brixton 5-6 years ago had strong incentives, while the government did not support energy efficiency in buildings in the same way. So the energy community covered the roofs with panels and used the proceeds from the photovoltaic cells to renovate the homes of the most energy disadvantaged.”

Technical aspects

How do energy communities work Doing excercise? We will deal more specifically with the steps required to create an energy community in a future article; In the meantime, Ferraris remind us that “there is a simplified and inexpensive process”, but “we still have to rely on the professionals to organize it”.

Combining society and technological aspects, energy communities can be a link between social and environmental problems and help us overcome the famous Nimbe syndrome.

At the moment, the legislation regulating CERs is in a beta stage, as Europe envisions, and some aspects could be improved. For example, there is a limit to the switching substation, where only the link holders on the low voltage electricity grid fed by the same medium/low voltage substation can be part of the same power community. It is located aroundA technical limit that can be crossed, but at the moment it is working to determine where the energy input occursgiven that the electrons once in the network are indistinguishable from others.

The other limitation is that 100 kilowatts of maximum output“It’s okay if we’re talking about networks of citizens, but it becomes a constraint on the development of energy communities between companies.”

What is the role of the transition?

Are energy communities an alternative to large industrial renewable energy plants? According to Ferrari, this is a wrong dilemma. “We are facing a historical challenge: Within 7-8 years, we have to implement a significant emission reduction, which has been rising for a long time. So you need everything: you need the energy communities, but also wind turbines in unnatural areas, floating wind farms, you need rooftop photovoltaic panels, as well as ground systems, and so on.”

Italy is the second largest manufacturing company in Europe and “industrial activity has a great energy balance. We hope to decrease, but we can’t do it all at once: We hope to maintain the same consumption levels for the next 20-25 years, before declining. So we must implement a massive shift towards producing energy from renewable sources. Across the world, we are still 80% dependent on fossil fuels.”

In this context, renewable energy communities can Helping citizens to get out of a negative role To be aware, involved and enthusiastic about this massive process on a global scale.

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