The EU has agreed a legal framework for “citizen energy communities”. Groups of individual consumers can thus generate energy for home use and pool surplus energy for sale to the national grid. The deal should be a boost for small-scale renewable energy production.
There are currently around 3,000 energy communities across Europe, according to REScoop.eu, the European federation for renewable energy cooperatives.
The EU estimates that by 2030, more than 50 GW of wind and more than 50 GW of solar could be owned by energy communities, representing 17% and 21% of installed capacity, respectively.
Key elements of the new deal includes the possibility for energy communities – located in the same building or neighbourhood – to own, rent or purchase their own electricity distribution network, according to people familiar with the matter. Network charges will by default not apply when electricity is consumed on location, for example in the same building or complex.
Network ownership will be subject to approval from national authorities, however. This was a concession made to member states which have a monopoly in the management of distribution networks, like Enedis in France.
But when network charges do apply, they will have to be defined according to a transparent cost-benefit analysis, performed under regulatory supervision and taking into account the positive effect of distributed generation, said people involved in the talks.
Perhaps more importantly, the very concept of local energy communities was renamed ‘Citizen Energy Communities’, in a move aimed at reinforcing their principle of autonomy. From a legal stance, this means only natural persons (i.e. individuals) can be among the shareholders and have decision-making powers in the governance structure of these entities.
Of course private companies with a local stake can join a community but without a role in the governance structure. This is important to ensure real citizen ownership and avoid abuse of the status by large companies,” said a parliamentary source close to the talks.
However, virtual exchanges of electricity along greater distances – so-called ‘virtual net metering’ – was voted down by the EU, in what appears like a concession to Germany, which insists that all energy producers big or small pay a contribution for using the electricity grid.
Provisions on electricity sharing “will reinforce Europe’s leadership and innovation in decentralised energies. With the right electricity market design for small-scale solar, active consumers, and storage – only then will energy communities, SME’s and rural areas be able to fully take part in the energy transition.
With the new renewable energy directive in place, households now have a right enshrined in EU law to produce electricity using solar panels, sell any excess production to the grid and get a market price for it, said BEUC, the EU consumer organisation.
The new law includes the creation of contact points to advise and support people interested in installing solar panels on administrative and permitting procedures, BEUC said. And it will also prevent EU countries from applying prohibitive charges such as Spain’s infamous “Sun tax”.
“Solar energy should be within everybody’s reach,” said Monique Goyens, director general of BEUC, adding the new law provides more certainty for “people who have been on the fence and who previously hesitated about investing in solar panels.”