Community renovation projects are key to supporting the green transition

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

Community groups, known as energy cooperatives, are key to promoting sustainable and renewable energy in communities and allow citizens to have a direct say [Andrew Lam / Shutterstock]

Both tenants and homeowners need to be involved in renovation programmes to bring Europe’s ageing building stock in line with its climate goals. Energy cooperatives could be one way to encourage citizens’ support, writes Ciarán Cuffe.

Ciarán Cuffe is an Irish member of the European Parliament for the Greens and will be working on revising the energy performance of buildings directive next year.

During my time as an MEP, I’ve often heard (and used) the phrase “Citizens need to be
at the heart of the energy transition”. This might be easily confused for eurojargon, understood only by a select few that work in the Brussels energy bubble or the policy mandarins of Twitter.

However, what we mean by this phrase is that the future belongs to the people. In terms of energy – i.e. where people get the electricity to light and heat their homes – I have seen incredible examples of what can be achieved when groups of people band together to invest in their future.

Last year, I supported a European Commission pilot project that aimed at promoting citizen-led renovation projects. This encourages the renovation of buildings and homes by energy
cooperatives for and with their communities.

Energy cooperatives are groups of citizens that come together to promote sustainable and renewable energy within their community through active citizenship involvement. The benefits of this model are clear from the outset; citizens have their say directly throughout the governance of the cooperative.

As well as this, the cooperative provides independent and accessible technical support to its members and communities and, in turn, becomes a trusted partner. At their heart, energy cooperatives are all about communities. They provide energy solutions that are tailor-made and adapted to local conditions.

Furthermore, they intrinsically favour local businesses, promoting local commerce and jobs and reinforcing social fabric. We have seen fantastic examples of energy communities in Belgium with groups like and their member EnerGent. EnerGent is an energy cooperative that focuses on investing in energy production, renewable heating and providing energy services for citizens.

And they’ve had some incredible results. Since 2015, they’ve worked with 11 neighbourhoods, contributed to 804 renovation plans, and implemented 324 renovation measures. What sets a group like this above the rest is the technical advice and support they provide throughout the renovation process for households in their community.

This creates substantial savings for citizens by bringing down the overall renovation costs as well as increasing the energy savings that come from the improved energy efficiency of the building. Again, this is a stark reminder that energy efficiency is one of the best lines of defence against peaks in energy prices.

Another example that is closer to home for me is the Energy Communities Tipperary Cooperative. This acts as a One-Stop-Shop service. It aims to support households during all stages of their renovation journey, and they have great success in developing their cooperative.

For example, from the period 2012-2019, Energy Communities Tipperary Cooperative managed to renovate 827 houses and 25 communal/commercial buildings in 13 communities which led to 8.8 GWh energy savings. These are just two very positive examples of what can be done when groups of citizens come together and work to improve the energy efficiency of their homes.

From an EU perspective, there is a lot we can do to foster and facilitate energy cooperatives. The Fit for 55 package presents an opportunity for EU policymakers to further support the role that energy communities can place in the energy transition.

For example, in the upcoming revision of the Energy Efficiency Directive; the energy efficiency first principle (i.e. taking utmost account in energy planning, and in policy and investment decisions, of alternative cost-efficient energy efficiency measures to make energy demand and energy supply more efficient) should be enshrined into the legislative package.

Under the revised Renewable Energy Directive, Renewable Energy communities can help Member States meet proposed targets on renewable energy coming from the buildings sector, heating and cooling, and energy efficiency and renovation.

Next year, I will be working on the revision of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD). The EPBD can provide support to energy communities through initiatives that tackle energy poverty, such as implementing Minimum Energy Performance Standards that will phase out the worst-performing buildings.

Citizens, both tenants and homeowners, need to be involved in renovation programs. We won’t succeed in renovating the majority of homes of Europe’s 195 million households without their buy-in.

At the same time, citizen-led initiatives such as Renewable Energy Communities have a large potential in helping reach renovation targets and overcome barriers to renovation, especially for the residential sector, through independent, trusted, and accessible information and (technical) advice and support.

The revision of the EPBD is an opportunity to acknowledge this potential and provide guidance to the Member States on how to involve and support citizen-led renovation programs through their Long-Term Renovation Strategies and related policies and instruments. So, when we hear the phrase “Citizens need to be at the heart of the energy transition”, it means that we want citizens to have their say in a greener and healthier future.

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