A consumer-driven energy transition?

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.COM Ltd.

Households, SMEs, schools, hospitals, or farmers who put solar panels on their roofs were exempted from certain grid obligations under today's agreement. [100% Campaign / Flickr]

Supporting small-scale renewable installations is a no-brainer for the energy transition. But the battle for small installations is far from over as the European Parliament must formally adopt its position this week, writes Aurélie Beauvais.

Aurélie Beauvais is Policy Director at SolarPower Europe, a trade association.

The EU has promised a consumer-driven energy transition since the very first proposal of the ‘Clean Energy For All Europeans’ package, but European policy makers could put the breaks on what could catapult the energy transition into the next gear – small-scale renewable installations.

In December 2018, the European Council proposed to remove priority dispatch and enforce balancing responsibilities on small-scale renewables. These policies will place small-scale renewable installations at an extreme disadvantage, as they will be faced with substantial administrative and technical burdens that might just be too high for these smaller players to overcome.

Luckily, the European Parliament has shown initiative to stand up for small-scale renewables. A compromise was reached after several hours of negotiations, maintaining priority dispatch for small-scale renewable installations bellow 500Kw.

While this is an important win, the proposals on balancing responsibilities remains too weak, as Member States would still be allowed to remove balancing responsibilities exemptions prior to having implemented transparent, efficient and competitive balancing markets.

Small-scale renewable energy producers are not your typical energy market players. A specific framework for the integration of small-scale renewable installations is therefore crucial to maintain a level-playing field on the energy market. Households, SMEs, schools, hospitals, and farmers who put solar panels on their roofs are not producing energy as their primary function as they still have students to educate, crops to grow, and lives to save – they therefore do not have access to the same resources as large energy producers.

Forcing these small players to compete on the same market and with the same requirements as major utility-scale energy producers will inevitably lead to a decline in the uptake of small-scale renewables in the EU.

This will be detrimental to Europe’s clean energy future – we cannot afford to lose small-scale renewables if we want to harness the full economic, industrial and social potential of the energy transition.

Whether it be roof-top solar, community solar projects, or micro-grids – small-scale renewable installations are important creators of local, sustainable jobs and providers of affordable energy that will be necessary to transform the promises of the European energy transition into a local reality. Small-scale renewable installations are the most accessible and cost-effective way for citizens and SME’s to satisfy their needs in terms of both electricity demand and economic growth.

According to a recent report by CE Delft, over 83% of the EU’s households could become  energy citizens with small-scale renewable installations by 2050. This is a substantial total of 187 million citizens that could produce, consume and sell clean energy, all from the comfort of their own homes.

Additionally, over 161 million of these citizens could contribute significantly to grid stabilisation by providing demand flexibility with smart appliances, electric vehicles and stationary batteries. This will contribute considerably to the reduction of energy prices and security of supply in the European energy system.

With nearly 50 million European citizens affected by energy poverty, easier access to small-scale renewable installations would give vulnerable consumers access to the modern electricity services that they so badly need, protecting them from unfair market practices. On top of this, small-scale renewables are empowering for consumers because they offer income-generating opportunities – with a solar panel on your roof, you can sell your excess energy back to the grid and contribute to a cleaner energy system.

Small-scale renewable installations are also good for business. Approximately 5 to 6 million SMEs could become energy citizens as well by 2050, lowering their energy bills and allowing them to focus on growing their business rather than on how they will keep the lights on.

Finally, small-scale renewable installations offer major opportunities to boost local development. Last year, small-scale solar installations provided the majority of jobs in the European solar sector. As these jobs are overwhelmingly downstream, this means that they will be created locally with no chance of being exported. With the solar sector alone potentially providing over 335,000 jobs by 2030 according to a recent EY report, these jobs will be indispensable drivers of local socio-economic growth.

Supporting small-scale renewable installations is a no-brainer for a consumer- driven energy transition. But the battle for small installations is far from over as the European Parliament must formally adopt its position this week. The highly anticipated trilogue negotiations will begin soon after, with small-scale renewable installations being a key issue that all the EU institutions have yet to find common ground.

SolarPower Europe has been at the frontlines of this battle, fighting for the rights of energy citizens by making sure that small-scale renewable installations are on top of EU policy makers’ agendas. We, alongside thirteen other trade associations and hundreds of European companies, believe that small is beautiful. If you share our view, we encourage you to support the #SmallisBeautiful campaign which aims to protect small-scale renewable installations in the Clean Energy Package.

While these installations may be considered small, their impact will certainly be huge to ensure a bright future for Europe!

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