Building a local energy community
One of the key stumbling blocks for a lot of European projects is a lack of awareness in the general public. How engaged are the citizens of Eemnes with this project?
SL. We’re organising an introductory event later this month about the new pilot project that will be open to the public. But everyone that I talk to in the street is already telling me they want to participate. It’s important to highlight that people are already using renewables and more than comfortable with the concept of producing their own energy. Roughly a quarter of the houses in Eemnes already have solar panels.
Our challenge is to help citizens transform from consumers to ‘prosumers’ – producing and selling excess energy back to the grid, or even their neighbours! We’re hoping to incentivise them to use their full roof potential. There’s an additional 10 to 20% of prime roof real estate that could be generating a profit for the homeowner and for the environment.
Outside of the project, how important is it to educate people about the energy transition?
SL. It’s crucial. The first step is getting people on board!
There are really three types of people involved in the energy transition. The frontrunners you don’t have to convince because they are already knocking down your door demanding change and usually armed with big ambitions. Then there is a large majority who can be persuaded easily enough if you can show them both the environmental and financial benefits.
Convincing the last 10 to 15% of the population is where it gets tricky. These are the people who are reluctant to change and will most likely have to be driven by legislation.
So the goal is to convince people to make the most of smart energy’s potential. Is that also the goal when looking at the bigger picture?
SL. It certainly is. This project was granted an exemption from Dutch energy law but that doesn’t mean we don’t foresee other regulatory obstacles. We want this project to provide the evidence we need to lobby for legislative changes to encourage the energy transition at a local level. We’re working closely with Amersfoort, who are preparing a similar project, to compare the different stumbling blocks we run into.
But the project won’t just make the case for policymakers – the idea is also to make life easier for the entire energy value chain by giving them a tried-and-tested business case. If we can show that local energy communities result in a stable energy network for both end-users and for network managers, then my hope is that we can inspire other communities across the Netherlands to follow soon.
Other than legislation, are there other obstacles to consider?
SL. One of the main problems we’re facing is a lack of financing for homeowners who want to engage with the energy transition. To make a home truly climate-neutral requires investments of anywhere between 40 000 to 100 000 euros. Unfortunately, there apparently isn’t a strong enough business case for people to get a loan to cover these costs. For something like insulation, you sometimes have to wait up to 30 years for a return on investment. These are long-term investments that require very sound business cases.
And what exactly is the municipality’s role in helping homeowners overcome these challenges?
SL. Municipalities’ main roles are to share knowledge and help with financing. It’s about helping citizens understand all their options and make informed decisions.
In addition to running the pilot for the RENAISSANCE project, how is Eemnes in particular exploring the potential of the energy transition?
SL. Eemnes is innovating outside of this project as well. We’re developing a scheme that will use a relay model to reach as many businesses as possible. We select the first business to be a loan beneficiary to help them become sustainable. Then, they nominate the next beneficiary – it could be an entrepreneur the municipality might not have otherwise been able to support.
Furthermore, we’re also looking into geothermal energy. It has very little visual impact but in the longer term, it could be the first step in sharing not only electricity, but also heat. It’s just taking the idea of open trading and applying it to new fields!
At Bax & Company, we’re lucky enough to work with experts in emerging and existing fields from around the world. Beyond Bax is an opportunity for us to share some of their knowledge with you.
If you have any suggestions or further questions, please do reach out! And to find out more about the introductory event for Eemnes’ local energy community, please click here.