Reflecting on the European Energy Communities Forum

In a world increasingly divided by polarization and beset by climate and energy injustices, collective, democratically governed local projects offer a beacon of hope. They can foster trust in each other and in a sustainable future. From 13 to 15 May,, together with its member UKEN, organized the European Energy Communities Forum in Prague, the Czech Republic's capital. Inspired by the iconic Charles Bridge, which historically connects East and West, and the city's rich heritage of craftsmanship and innovation, the forum explored energy communities as catalysts for change and as a bridging factor between people of different backgrounds and communities.

The Forum

This vibrant forum welcomed 160 participants from across Europe for a three-day event brimming with workshops, exchanges, and interactive sessions. The underlying goal? To transform the energy sector by promoting an inclusive and cooperative model, offering an alternative to the "winner-takes-all" approach. The forum assisted citizens in launching their energy projects, provided insights and support for effective advocacy, and delved deeper into making the community energy movement more inclusive, particularly for those traditionally underrepresented in climate and energy decision-making.

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The event featured 21 workshops, 4 plenary sessions, and numerous networking and matchmaking activities. At the heart of the forum: sharing tools, building capacities, exchanging knowledge, and fostering connections.

Shaping policy frameworks for energy communities

A recurring theme throughout the forum was the critical role of policy in creating an enabling environment for energy communities to flourish. A standout workshop focused on EU legislation for energy communities, presenting the concept of a 'second generation' of policies to support diverse energy community activities across the energy system. Updates to directives such as the Renewables Directive, the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive, and the Energy Efficiency Directive were discussed as well as the potential of the newly-established Social Climate Fund Regulation to boost energy communities’ social impact. Emphasis was placed on the importance of national-level implementation to facilitate energy sharing, engagement in large-scale projects such as heating and cooling, addressing energy poverty, and enhancing financial mechanisms.

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Furthermore, the forum addressed the issue of corporate capture in the community energy sector, which can undermine the growth of genuine community energy initiatives. Participants discussed strategies to counteract corporate capture, emphasizing the need for transparent and inclusive policy development processes that prioritize the interests of local communities.

Ensuring a just energy transition

The forum also underscored the need for a just energy transition. Through a set of workshops on the second day, we showcased the importance of inclusivity and diversity within energy communities, sharing lessons from various cooperatives on engaging marginalized groups and promoting gender equality. Additionally, the forum highlighted the potential role of energy communities in alleviating energy poverty. Practical strategies were discussed, such as targeted outreach and support for low-income households, the creation of diverse leadership teams within energy projects, and the development of training programs to build skills and confidence among underrepresented populations.

These discussions emphasized that addressing social justice within the energy transition is as crucial as technological and economic advancements. By ensuring that everyone has a stake in the energy transition, we can build a more equitable and resilient energy system that benefits all members of society.

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Building bridges

Most importantly, bridges were built. In line with the forum’s theme, several workshops explored how energy communities can act as bridges between different sectors and stakeholders. From collaborations between citizen-led initiatives and local authorities to the formation of national energy community coalitions, the power of collaboration was demonstrated, and the importance of creating supportive networks to foster growth and resilience in the community energy sector was highlighted.

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The European Energy Communities Forum in Prague served as a vibrant platform for knowledge exchange, collaboration, and inspiration. Through various networking activities, including a bingo game, a speed-dating session, and a site visit exploring the history of Prague, participants came together and crafted plans for the future.

Looking ahead

This year’s forum once more highlighted the transformative potential of energy communities in driving a democratic and inclusive energy transition, building bridges across different sectors, and empowering citizens to take charge of their energy futures. By continuing to support and expand these initiatives, we can forge a more sustainable, just, and interconnected energy future.

Stay tuned for next year’s European Community Energy Forum in Eastern Europe, as we continue our collective journey towards a just and fair energy transition.