Energy communities can finally become a reality in many countries. This type of set-up will become increasingly necessary for consumption of renewable energy.
Renewable energy is becoming more and more accessible due to the development of generation technology that lowers intrinsic costs. An initial solution was the introduction of storage units to be connected to photovoltaic systems, allowing energy to be consumed as needed and making energy available irrespective of the time of day or the geographic location.
But the most effective solution to maximise the usage of energy generated by solar panels is the energy-community.
But what are energy communities?
What is an energy community?
An energy community is a group of people that share clean energy, in an exchange between equals. Energy communities can therefore be considered as an innovative model for the production, distribution and consumption of renewable energy. This model is founded on the pursuit of objectives such as combating energy wastage and sharing a fundamental commodity at a competitive price, by relying on an innovation that is revolutionising the energy market.
To properly understand these smart communities, we must first grasp the concept of a smart grid. The electricity grid is undergoing a transformation that everyone has experienced in other aspects of daily life: digitalisation. The digital world, like the web, allows peer-to-peer node-based connections. We have transitioned from a centralised physical grid with one-to-many transmission (the electricity operator supplying energy to our homes) to a decentralised digital grid, with one-to-one and many-to-many connections. This is a “smart” grid because, in addition to the necessary metering sensors, it also incorporates complex artificial-intelligence algorithms, allowing individual citizens to take an active role.
How? Through the smart grid, which allows each individual to become part of an energy community: owners of a photovoltaic system connected to the grid (prosumers) can share their excess energy with other consumers. Anybody can join one of these communities that share clean energy, reducing energy wastage and lowering both their bills and their carbon footprint.
The members of an energy community
What are the requirements to join an energy community?
Whether you live in an apartment or in a detached or semi-detached house, if you wish to play an active role in the energy revolution, you will need a photovoltaic system with a storage unit. Otherwise, you can be involved in the energy transition simply as a consumer: all you need is some knowledge of the matter, a controller such as the SNOCU from Regalgrid, and access to a digital platform for the management of energy communities, such as Regalgrid itself.
Energy communities in Europe: the RED II Directive
The EU Directive, also known as RED II, is the result of a European energy movement, and amongst the various regulations on energy sustainability it also establishes financial support for the generation and self-consumption of electricity from renewables. The directive considers renewable energy as an essential element for a fairer and more sustainable energy market based on the circular-economy model, which promotes technological innovation alongside environmental, social, health and economic benefits.
Energy communities are also presented as a current and necessary solution to promote the generation and consumption of renewable energy. In fact, energy communities are already widespread in some European countries such as the UK, Spain, Greece, France and Germany. They can rely on the support of effective financing and incentive systems, a clear regulatory framework and by raising public awareness.
The RED II directive also defines the assignment of rights to self-consumers that join energy communities and also regards this form of networking as a great opportunity for standard consumers, with a reduction in consumption and lower costs.
Finally, everyone will have access to and share the benefits of clean and sustainable energy generation from photovoltaic power. The possibility for those involved solely as electricity consumers to join forces with renewable-energy producers in the context of energy communities represents a milestone in the history of renewable-energy development.
To really understand the huge importance of this new development, we must consider that, even in sun-blessed countries, sometimes certain types of property such as apartment buildings do not offer private spaces for many people to install their own photovoltaic systems. Until recently, these people were also unable to purchase energy from solar-panel owners, even if they were neighbours. At the same time, clean energy producers were only able to sell the energy to the grid operator. This legislation marks a significant change, inverting the trend and creating incentives, such as introduction of a bonus for the highest level of self-consumption that a community-energy programme is able to achieve.
For years, Regalgrid has been working on this energy sharing model: a Digital Energy Platform, proprietary algorithms and collective management of the various inverters and storage systems distributed across the energy community allow for the optimisation of self-consumption in the community. The installation of SNOCU units that act as controllers, managing local traffic, allows consumers and prosumers alike to achieve real-time optimisation of the sharing and management of production and storage to maximise self-consumption.