As municipalities search for different instruments to accelerate their SECAP implementation process, the potential of local community initiatives is still to be fully grasped especially in Central and Eastern Europe. However, recent legislative changes at EU level as well as a growing number of best practice examples show that this approach can reap substantial benefits for communities seeking to make progress in SECAP implementation.

To begin with, it is important to note that the concept of energy communities officially entered European Union legislation through the Clean Energy for all Europeans package. The document defines energy communities as citizen-led initiatives, pooling energy production while sharing the benefits of renewable energy. The potential of such initiatives is immense: According to European Commission estimates, energy communities could own around 17% of installed wind capacity and 21% of solar by 2030. At the same time, households are expected to be generating 50% of their own energy through renewable sources.

Giving the ever-evolving legislative landscape, such predictions appear realistic. Since the 2019 European Directive for internal electricity market, citizens have been increasingly empowered to produce energy, either individually or through energy communities, “by generating, consuming, sharing or selling electricity, or by providing flexibility services through demand-response and storage”. The revised EU Renewable Energy Directive (RED II), which forms part of the Clean Energy for all Europeans package, has further buttressed RES “self-consumption”. These directives not only pave the way for the establishment of energy communities, they are also key to combatting energy poverty.

However, some hurdles remain: EU legislation has to be transposed to the national level and the interpretation of the concept will be decided by each member state. In addition, local support structures need to be created to help citizens overcome existing fiscal, technical and legal barriers when setting up energy communities. Free technical and legal advice for the launching of energy communities would ease the process but governments need to recognise the importance of doing so and be willing to mobilise the necessary funds.

On a positive note, existing energy communities already provide some hints for further replication. A recent article entitled “Renewable energy communities to boost the energy transition in the Mediterranean”, cites Mediterranean flagship initiatives in the town of Ragusa in Sicily (Italy) and the rural municipality of Vall d’en Bas in Catalonia (Spain) where renewable energy communities are being set up as part of the Interreg MED Renewable Energy Community. In both cases, municipalities are receiving support from the project to start generating their own photovoltaic energy at community level.

In Hungary, similar initiatives are expected to flourish following the release of the draft Hungarian Operational Programmes, which now includes renewable energy communities. In Austria, the recent Renewable Energy Expansion Act has provided a legal basis for the creation of energy communities while these receive official set-up support through a Coordination Office and can also apply for funding through calls for proposals.  These developments explain why municipalities such as Schnifis have been able to found community organisations, producing and selling both biogas and photovoltaic electricity locally. It is hoped that such examples will motivate other municipalities in the region and beyond to get involved in energy communities.