Community energy is key to action on the climate crisis. It can empower people, boost local economies, and reinvigorate communities. Community-led initiatives play an important part in the transition towards a 100% renewable and just energy future. Success stories of community energy projects can be found all over Europe. At we want to highlight these stories to further accelerate the movement towards a cleaner and democratic system.

Last month we talked about the millions of Europeans suffering from energy poverty and different solidarity initiatives to alleviate it. When it comes to saving money on the energy bill, energy efficient buildings are crucial. Energy communities around Europe are working with citizens to renovate their houses. This month we look at some examples.

The need to renovate Europe’s buildings

Buildings have a critical role to play in fighting climate change - they are responsible for 36 % of Greenhouse Gas emissions in Europe, according to European Commission's data. Energy efficient and decarbonised buildings can strongly reduce their energy demand and related emissions. However, most of the buildings that exist today in Europe have a poor energy performance and will still be standing for decades. Renovating them is thus essential. It will not only save energy and money for their inhabitants, but it will also drastically boost comfort levels and create a healthy indoor climate. In this context, the European Commission launched the Renovation Wave strategy two years ago to double the renovation rate in Europe by 2030.

It is clear that the cleanest, cheapest and most sustainable energy is the energy that is not used or needed in the first place. Because of this, energy communities are increasingly offering building renovation services to their members and communities as part of their collective approaches to energy-related issues.

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Workers renovating a window in Greater Manchester. (c) People Powered Retrofit

Energent cv: a neighbourhood approach to renovations

The energy use of houses in Belgium is 70% higher than the European average. In Ghent, a city in the East of the country, the energy cooperative Energent has been supporting home renovations for several years. In 2015, they launched their ‘Wijkwerf programme’, a neighbourhood approach to advise and support households on home renovation.

Wijkwerf has two key elements. The first one is that Energent supervises the entire process of the renovation through a single contact person for the household. The second one is that renovations take place neighbourhood by neighbourhood, allowing households to, collectively, get better prices from contractors.

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A family receives advice from an Energent expert. (e) Energent cv

These two identifying elements address what An Van Hemeldonck, Energent’s project officer working on the Wijkwerf programme, identifies as the main barriers that people face to undertake renovation works:

“A lot of people just don’t know where to start. They don’t know which contractors are reliable or they don’t know anything about the different materials that can be used. Some of them had bad experiences with a specific contractor in the past. And people don’t have enough money to pay for the works.”

Energent’s programme tries to take care of everything related to the renovation, so people don’t have to worry too much about it. “Only thinking about renovation or searching contractors and negotiating with them is stressful for a lot of people”, An adds.

Funding the renovations

Even with discounts through collective purchasing, a renovation is still a big investment. To support households, Energent helps people by pointing them to public support programmes, making upfront calculations of the support people can receive, and helping them to apply. Energent also organises collective purchases of cavity wall insulation and window replacement, two easy and not very expensive interventions that have a quick impact on a building’s energy efficiency.

Since Energent launched the Wijkwerf programme, they have completed 372 interventions and provided free renovation advice to 925 families from 17 neighbourhoods of the city of Ghent and its surrounding area. Wijkwerf is co-funded by the European project BE REEL, running until the end of 2024. An hopes that by then Energent will be involved in other projects or will receive support from the government to keep carrying out renovation support activities.

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Renovation advice by Energent. (c) Energent

Sem Oxenaar, a project manager working on citizen-led renovation, highlights the importance of public support for these initiatives.

“Reliable, accessible, and people centred one-stop-shop support is crucial, we need to make it easy for people to renovate their homes. As trusted local actors governed by citizens, energy communities have a huge potential to provide such services. But, without government support, they will not be able to scale-up and replicate such activities all over Europe.”

Carbon Co-op: successful community shares issue

Carbon Co-op is another energy cooperative that offers renovation services to their members. In this case, they do it through ‘People Powered Retrofit’, a not-for-profit organisation founded by Carbon Co-op to offer clear, independent advice and support to retrofit projects in Greater Manchester in the United Kingdom. They support households throughout the entire renovation journey, from initial planning and project coordination to monitoring and evaluation.

The increasing demand for their services has led them to launch a ‘communities shares issue’ at the end of last year. The action was a great success and they even surpassed their investment target of £550,000. Jonathan Atkinson, co-founder of Carbon Co-op, explains that, thanks to the money raised, they will be able to employ more staff, make investments in tools and technologies, and make their services available to other citizen-led energy groups in the UK and, hopefully, around Europe.

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People Powered Retrofit staff. (c) People Powered Retrofit

Jonathan reflects on the hard work behind this funding success:

A lot of hard work and thinking went into planning, testing and piloting our ideas and assumptions. We distilled this work into an 85-page business plan, which I am glad to say had a lot of positive feedback from other people in the sector. After putting in that hard work, the actual process of raising the investment was surprisingly smooth. I think that's in part due to our piloting and research, but also a reflection that citizens and organisations are desperately looking for models like ours to progress energy efficiency services.

Sharing models and cooperating at European level, as the European federation of citizen energy cooperatives, facilitates a Citizen-led renovation working group of members working on sustainable building renovation. In this group, energy communities like Carbon Co-op and Energent collaborate and share knowledge, experience, and best practices that can be inspirational to cooperatives wanting to develop their own services in this area.

With a high demand from households for trusted and locally based support on energy efficiency and home renovation, energy communities are increasingly interested in developing such services for both their members and the wider communities they operate in. As citizen-led organisations, they are well aware of local circumstances, have a strong community network, and often partner with other local stakeholders such as municipalities and energy agencies. This puts them in a good position to help households. With strong support for such supports services, a big push can be given to making the Renovation Wave a reality.

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Citizen-led renovation bootcamp organised by

If you are a member and want to be part of the working group, send an email to our colleague Sem Oxenaar.