Renewable Energy Communities
Institutional Communication Service
When discussing clean energy, we often refer to photovoltaic systems (solar panels), which produce green electricity, thus promoting renewable energy self-consumption. A collective organisational model, the Renewable Energy Community (RES communities), has recently been introduced alongside individual photovoltaic systems, which have existed for several years. Thanks to the help of smart grids, RES communities allow final consumers, usually associations between citizens, businesses, local authorities or companies, to self-produce and self-consume green energy. We talk about it with Professor Barbara Antonioli Mantegazzini, Deputy Director of USI Institute for Economic Research (IRE).
The Renewable Energy Community recognises as fundamental the participation of domestic and industrial consumers in the acceleration of the energy transition, thus improving their awareness.
A classic example of Renewable Energy Community involves the installation of a renewable energy production plant, typically photovoltaic, on the roofs of private homes or public facilities such as kindergartens or schools. The energy generated is then shared and used on-site, minimising transit through the national power grid. In its most ambitious and challenging form, RES communities could become energy islands (green islands), increasingly independent from the central power grid. In addition to end users, RES communities can involve other stakeholders such as local governments, distributors, and public and private companies and utilities, usually in the guise of technology partners.
What are the main advantages of this system?
RES communities can be an innovative solution for the environment, economy and society. In environmental terms, if widely spread, they contribute to renewable energy production, bringing us closer to achieving the ambitious climate neutrality goals set for 2050. In economic terms, when based on an appropriate business model that accurately weighs the allocation of costs and revenues among participants, they can also lower the cost of electricity consumption, thanks to lower transportation costs and limited grid losses. When available, excess energy can be shared with the most economically vulnerable end users. It can reduce energy poverty, defined as the lack of access to sustainable modern energy services and products. Finally, RES communities are a tool for democratising energy management, placing control back in the hands of end users.
What is the impact of energy communities on the territory?
If properly designed and structured, RES communities can represent an opportunity to boost the local economic and technological fabric, especially for small and medium municipalities. They could be implemented in villages or suburban areas, perhaps marked by progressive depopulation, with the aim of attracting people and production activities. In some cases, they have been thought of in combination with the spread of residential models such as renewed social housing or housing cooperatives. In general, these models can strengthen social cohesion. Spaces for new collaborations with energy and multi-utility companies are also opening up, which could act as intermediaries between RES communities and local authorities thanks to their technical and managerial skills. The optimisation of the use of the distribution network, subject to the stress of self-production from local plants, plays a crucial role.
What is the situation like in Ticino and Switzerland? Is this model feasible?
The EU and various national governments, including Switzerland, are investing heavily in its implementation, also through ("co") financing programmes. To date, we are still in the initial phase of diffusion of this organisational model, even if in some countries, typically in Northern Europe, there are already advanced examples. In Ticino, an interesting pilot project is the "Lugaggia Innovation Community" (LIC) in Capriasca. AEM Massagno and Hive Power have provided 18 homes with the energy produced by a 30kWp plant located on the roof of the local kindergarten. In addition to evaluating the actual economic benefits and technical feasibility, the project also aims to assess the degree of acceptance among the community members involved in this new form of self-consumption.
In general, the success of similar initiatives depends mainly on the model's credibility for the allocation of costs and revenues and related pricing strategies, the effective involvement of citizens and the degree of efficiency of the networks and technologies used.
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