All target countries have ratified the Paris Agreement. Their national climate and energy goals as well as the European Union targets for renewable energy (RE) – a share of 27% and increase in energy efficiency of 30% by 2030 – are still not enough to reach (supra)national climate goals.
Energy communities, and thus energy cooperatives, can have an essential role in supporting national governments and the EU to achieve their climate and energy objectives of a fossil free and socially sound transformation. This movement is helping to drive the development of local decentralised energy networks, contribute to public acceptance of the energy transition, enhance energy security and provide opportunities for local economic growth.
If appropriately supported, the potential of energy communities can incentivise local implementation of energy and climate targets, sustainable development goals (SDGs) and the Paris Agreement.
This study focuses on energy cooperatives as one important instrument for energy communities. Key findings are:
• There is a high need to strengthen public energy administrations to implement policies: market regulation, energy efficiency, energy security, energy poverty and ecological impact of energy use: Energy cooperatives can act as intermediaries for a broader public consultation.
• Available data on energy citizen projects in the target country is rather limited. Identifying good practice cases and measuring their impact requires platforms and knowledge transfer.
• The few identified best practices show that in almost all target countries, energy cooperatives could be established as a successful democratic and socio-economic business model.
• There is insufficient knowledge to understand the extent to which this organisational form is able to unify a broad group of actors to promote an RE system (societal power), to gather capital for elaborating renewable energy supply structures (economic power) and to meet international climate and SDG targets (ecological power).
• The operational phase, in addition to the preparatory stage, are both very important for the success of energy cooperatives.
• Important factors for energy cooperative development are governance and actor variables:
- Support mechanism for RE and legal and political framework
- Planning policies and administration
- Attitudes towards the cooperative model
- Cultures and local energy activism
• The main barriers are the lack of an appropriate support framework, lack of financing, lack of
knowledge and cooperative pilots and the strong power of monopolistic energy utility companies
adhering to fossil and centralized energy systems.
• The legal and political framework is very important for RE systems, but with cooperation, capacity
building and support schemes, energy cooperatives can be pushed from bottom-up.
• Cooperative structures encourage strong commitment, they reduce transaction costs and also mistrust in authorities and they encourage individual actions for sustainable development. Property rights in the hands of citizens are likely to enhance the cooperative model’s credibility and trustworthiness. Cooperatives improve cohesion within communities by building trust and confidence.
• Energy cooperative projects do not stand alone, rather they are part of a comprehensive ‘community developing’ policy, fostering a wider diffusion of new energy structures as technical, economic and societal models.
• A transformation of the energy system towards a renewable and decentralized energy supply needs a European dimension. Decentralized citizen’s power could significantly reduce system peaks and strengthen a European-wide power grid.