Power to the People: The Key Role of Energy Communities

How can local energy ownership contribute to more sustainable energy use and increase the EU’s renewable energy production? This question was discussed at the European Sustainable Energy Week – EUSEW2023 in the session entitled ‘Community-proofing the EU’s energy system by rebalancing roles and resources’. The panel was organised by the EUKI Academy in conjunction with the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action, REScoop.eu, Energy Cities and the Centre for Transport and Energy.

Published: 14 July 2023
Photo: © EUSEW

At the start, facilitator Sara Giovannini from Energy Cities stressed: ‘The current energy price crisis has exposed our dependence on fossil fuels and imported energy sources. We want to make sure that local governments and their inhabitants, who are part of the solution, have the necessary means to be active participants in the energy system’.

The momentum needed to engage citizens and democratise energy markets

Keynote speaker Adela Tesarova from the European Commission picked up the thread, pointing out that the current energy crisis had completely changed attitudes on the part of EU member state governments and citizens towards the energy landscape in Europe.

‘61 per cent of new capacity for renewables has come from rooftop solar. […] One of the things we hope to see in this energy revolution is far more democratisation of energy, far more decentralisation of energy generation and far more engagement of consumers in the process of producing energy,’ said Tesarova, emphatically.

Citizens in Greece and the Western Balkans are taking ownership of the just energy transition

Energy community projects in CEE took centre stage for two inspirational pitches.

The first saw founding member of the Minoan Energy cooperative Dimitris Katsaprakakis showcase how citizens on the island of Crete were taking ownership of the just energy transition. The largest energy community in Greece has constructed two photovoltaic plants that also supply low-income families free of charge.

Now, the cooperative wants to take the next step by applying for its first wind park licence and establishing a capacity-building project to raise awareness of the benefits of a just energy transition throughout Crete. Katsaprakakis concluded his pitch by calling upon local authorities to provide clear legal frameworks and set priorities in spatial planning.

‘Our goal is to establish the principles and basic roles for implementing the energy transition on our island. We will derive the maximum possible benefits for local citizens – economic, social and developmental benefits.’


Dr Dimitris Katsaprakakis, Professor at the Hellenic Mediterranean University in Greece and founding member of the Minoan Energy community

In the second pitch, Vedad Suljić presented the EUKI-funded project ‘Balkan Solar Roofs’ (BSR), arguing that the energy transition can only be economically viable if local communities benefit through involvement in the decision-making process and relevant investments.

The project aims to engage larger cities in the Western Balkans in energy community strategies and to equip their administrations with relevant knowledge and skills. BSR successfully launched campaigns in the three major cities of Kragujevac (Serbia), Poreč (Croatia) and Mostar (Bosnia-Herzegovina), leading to an increase in new solar installations on public and private roofs, and making solar energy more visible in local communities as a result.

How to tackle challenges

EUKI project implementer Ada Amon from Budapest City Hall underscored the importance of empowering citizens through energy policies and informing them about the technicalities of the energy transition. ‘Energy is power. In Central Europe, you can win elections by pushing down energy tariffs,’ she said, before going on to emphasise the role large cities can play in providing energy security for a country by promoting more solar energy systems on urban rooftops.

Adela Tesarova argued that engaging people in energy projects could change their attitudes to new infrastructure projects that benefit them. She further highlighted that consumers also need to be part of upskilling processes to equip them with the knowledge they require to participate in designing the new energy market.

Photos: © EUSEW
Photos: Policy Session at the European Sustainable Energy Week 2023 © EUSEW
Photos: © EUSEW
Photos: Policy Session at the European Sustainable Energy Week 2023 © EUSEW

Stavroula Pappa from REScoop.eu stressed that regulations for energy communities and social innovations, such as micro-donations for energy-poor households within the consumer tariff system, could provide solutions to the current energy crisis. She called for giving consumers more freedom by eliminating discriminatory regulations and embedding principles of local ownership within the new energy market’s design.

‘By 2050, at least half of European citizens could be producing their own energy. They could meet 45 per cent of the electricity demand by then. So, we’re talking about huge potential here.’

Stavroula Pappa, Policy Advisor at REScoop.eu

Antoine Mathieu, manager of the Energy Services Platform of the Elia Group, spoke about the changing role of transmission system operators: ‘It is difficult to maintain a balance between generation and consumption. […] What we are looking for is flexibility. We need people to consume energy when energy is available – when there is an abundance of energy.’

In the final debate with the audience, the panel delved deeper into questions concerning the challenges for energy communities, including the call for greater clarity on procurement and investment procedures, as well as solutions to balance out energy abundance.

‘Overall, it’s about giving citizens the power to manage their own energy. In the end, it’s all about democracy,’ concluded Giovannini.