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Europe’s local energy community landscape: It’s complicated, say researchers

An EU-funded report outlines how current regulations and policies affect the operation of local energy communities (LECs) in Europe, highlighting the need for a holistic approach.

Climate Change and Environment
Energy

The EU aims to be climate-neutral by 2050. Becoming an economy with net-zero greenhouse gas emissions means shifting to a renewables-based energy system and radically changing our infrastructure, technologies and behaviours. A vital role in this energy transition could be played by LECs, in other words, groups of energy users who have chosen a common path to meet their energy needs. LECs have the ability to promote prosumerism (greater involvement of customers in the production process), increase resource efficiency and integrate locally produced renewable energy. However, as noted in a press release posted on the ‘Science X’ website, the broader context in which LECs operate is rather complicated. The EU-funded eNeuron project has now published a report that analyses how current regulations and policies in force affect local multi-vector energy systems in Europe. In such systems, multiple energy vectors such as electricity, heat, cooling and gas interact optimally with each other at the local level.

Energy sector governed by uncertainty and lack of regulation

According to the report, in order for Europe to meet its energy sector decarbonisation goals, it will have to take several radical steps along the energy transition path. “Storage technology in its various forms is foreseen as a key enabler of the energy transition and a binding element of different energy vectors,” the report states. The introduction of renewable energy sources has brought about the need for greater efforts towards balancing the power system. This “may become a major driving force for deployment of grid-connected energy storage” as technologies like pumped hydro and heat storage also take off. However, where hydrogen storage is concerned, very high costs and the absence of infrastructure and regulation will likely delay its full-scale implementation. The overall impression is that the lack of regulation in the energy sector could delay the EU’s progress in achieving its 2050 targets. “Uncertainty and especially the absence of clear regulatory provisions are possibly the most significant barriers today, and this may discourage investors from developing infrastructure assets,” observes research scientist and report co-author Andrei Morch of SINTEF Energy Research, Norway, in the ‘Science X’ press release. The report also draws attention to the increasing future importance of heat storage, mentioning that over 50 % of the energy consumed in the EU is used for generating heat. Transport is highlighted as the sector with the lowest penetration of renewable energy in the EU, with electric vehicles playing a key role in its decarbonisation. As the authors state, despite the availability of a multitude of technologies that can promote decarbonisation, their adoption by consumers is currently shaped by technology-specific interest organisations. The LEC landscape is further complicated by the variety of solutions available on both a single consumer and energy community level. The eNeuron (greEN Energy hUbs for local integRated energy cOmmunities optimizatioN) report concludes by highlighting the need for a holistic approach “with dedicated and tailorable optimisation tools, which allow evaluating several decarbonisation technologies.” For more information, please see: eNeuron project website

Keywords

eNeuron, local energy community, renewable energy, heat, decarbonisation

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