The WHY project is investigating five use cases ranging from microgrid level to a global scale to gain insights regarding external factors, interventions, and individual behaviour and technical modelling components related to consumption. Energy communities are one of the use cases that WHY is exploring. In this context, Amanda Schibline represented the WHY project at the Sustainable Places Conference's "Fast Track on Energy Communities in Europe" workshop on the 28th September 2021 to discuss with fellow Horizon Europe projects the topic of Innovative Business Models for energy communities. The WHY project's Energy Community use case is investigating the topic further, however, our key insights from the conference are summarised below.
The project evaluates how energy communities currently exist from a lens of energy efficiency and reducing energy consumption at the household-level. Since the efficacy of these goals are behavioural and personal, it is imperative that our investigation includes inclusive solutions to alleviate social challenges like energy poverty. With the community prioritisation of the energy community framework, it is imperative to address these social challenges with inclusive solutions.
In fact, the traditional barriers for energy community development (lack of financial, technical and administrative capacity) are exacerbated for vulnerable households. Therefore, the innovative business models to truly develop energy communities European-wide and globally require inclusivity so everyone can benefit.
When discussing energy community business models, it is important to show the dynamic complexity that expands technology and land-use issues, market and revenue streams, regulatory and governance structures, and demographics like socio-economics and geography. This complexity leads to the conclusion that there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution, meaning that an innovative business model for an energy cooperative in Northern Europe won’t just magically work in Southern or Eastern Europe. As there are higher rates of energy poverty in these geographies, this underlines the problem.
Acknowledging the complex nature of developing inclusive and innovative energy community business models, WHY considers the below options as potential solutions to create innovative energy communities whose inclusive design can help alleviate energy poverty. The outcome-based business models allow those most likely to face energy poverty, such as renters in multi-family housing in cities, to directly benefit from the self-sufficiency of energy communities.
- For the geographically dispersed, WHY finds that non-profit-led community ESCOs allow vulnerable households to participate in an energy community, while easing the main barriers of upfront costs, time, and expertise. This community of interest also is able to network within the community.
- For those in social housing, there is a unique opportunity for the residents to receive centralised benefits ranging from on-site renewables generation, energy efficiency and energy services. As this housing is subsidised by state funding, it has the potential to face fewer barriers while allowing as much involvement as the community prefers.
- Cities have a unique and potentially critical role in the future success of such business models. They have the potential to bridge the gap from EU Regulatory Framework to easing regulatory barriers and providing unique funding opportunities to their local energy communities. Not only can cities mobilise and engage their citizens about energy communities, they are able to reap the benefits of local self-sufficiency indirectly.
Similarly, partnerships need to occur no matter the organisational structure, governance, and other aspects of innovative business models. Partnerships must go beyond the local or service-levels and involve other energy communities from around their region, country, and throughout the EU. While many presentations agree that knowledge-sharing platforms are imperative to optimise and share experiences and strategies, continuing this momentum to create a one-stop-shop that began as a grassroots effort and is able to be a useful resource to the entire complex future energy community business models will prove a necessary next step.