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Triggering Sustainable Biogas Energy Communities through Social Innovation

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - ISABEL (Triggering Sustainable Biogas Energy Communities through Social Innovation)

Reporting period: 2017-07-01 to 2018-12-31

Community energy (CE) has the potential to disrupt the energy system directly catalysing the transition to a low-carbon EU economy. The term 'community energy' covers a range of collective actions, with an emphasis on projects involving local engagement, leadership and control, and where there is a benefit to local communities. Even though community energy is not new (especially in certain Member States with community tradition), there is undoubtedly a momentum both at EU level and at national government level. In addition to increasing Renewable Energy (RE) generation, CE projects offer wide social impacts. These range from increased social acceptance of renewable energy developments, improved awareness of renewable and sustainable energy technologies and issues, faster uptake of low carbon technologies and sustainable/pro-environmental behaviours.

The ISABEL project aimed to strengthen the development of sustainable biogas production-consumption systems around Europe by taking advantage of sustainable biogas' growth potential. By introducing Social Innovation and engaging all types of stakeholders at regional/local level (biomass owners such as farmers and breeders, biogas producers, local/regional authorities, NGOs, citizens (consumers), etc.), the project focused on promoting, stimulating and supporting the creation and operation of community energy initiatives. that can bring multi-dimensional (economic, environmental and social) benefits to the local communities.
ISABEL activities were implemented in 3 regions (Baden-Württemberg in Germany, Yorkshire and the Humber in the UK and Central and Eastern Macedonia & Thrace in Greece) all of them representing territories of increased biogas interest for different reasons.
- Review of good practices, tools and key factors that facilitate or hinder for Social Innovation and Community Energy approaches in Europe.
- Analysis of the biogas landscape in the 3 targeted countries to map the relevant policies, incentives, operational practices and regulatory/licencing framework that foster the energy production.
- Analysis of the public perception on biogas, its benefits and implications at the 3 targeted regions to get valuable insights on the local actors’ interests, thoughts and concerns regarding the implementation of biogas community energy initiatives.
- Design and implementation of a wide range of activities (direct meetings during field visits in biogas plants and farms, local workshops and meetings with village councils, email/phone communication, etc.) to inform, stimulate and motivate local actors in more than 30 communities in the 3 regions regarding biogas as well the community energy concept.
- Establishing close collaboration with 18 communities (5 in Germany, 8 in UK and 5 in Greece) supporting them to set up regional energy initiatives, while a wide range of support services were offered.
- Assessment of the impact of ISABEL enabled interventions at regional level highlighting good practices and lessons learned in each region.
- Comparative analysis (at cross-regional level) so as to conclude on good practices with a high replication potential in similar regions across Europe.
- Close interaction with policy makers and key regional actors has been established through the partners’ participation in both national and international events, the organisation of roundtables and workshops, etc. to present the project findings (e.g. good practices, suggesting policy interventions, etc.) towards facilitating the uptake of community-based biogas projects at regional context across Europe.
- Design and development of the project web portal and social media accounts, as well as several on-line tools (publicly accessible through the project’s web portal).
- Organisation of several international workshops to prepare the ground for the “transfer” of the ISABEL concept and key findings to other regions in Europe, resulting to close collaboration with 3 communities (in Spain, Poland and Albania).
- Deployment of a wide range of dissemination and communication activities.
- Elaboration of a “Exploitation and Valorisation Plan” providing a strategic roadmap for the exploitation and valorisation of the project results that aims to safeguard ISABEL sustainability beyond project completion.
From the early stages of the project the analysis of the biogas landscape in the targeted countries, revealed a different maturity in biogas readiness level, ranging from mature (Germany), to intermediate (UK) and preliminary (Greece). Moreover, in each country, the level of interest, commitment and motivation of the key actors in each community differed, while several ‘external’ factors (e.g. national legislation, financial situation of the region and/or the country, etc.) affected the impact of ISABEL’s support activities. Overall:

- The key priority in Germany is not to install new biogas facilities, but mainly to come up with strategies to conserve the already installed ones after the ending of the renewable energy funding. In the framework of ISABEL, several alternatives were investigated and discussed focusing on the application of new business models with the involvement of local actors. Indicatively, in one of the cases supported by ISABEL, i.e. the Bräunlingen region (Black Forest), where there is already a biogas plant, the aim is to continue its operation with a higher utilisation of residual materials in close collaboration with local farmers, the municipality and the municipal utilities, as well as external experts. The biogas plant was extended within the ISABEL implementation (‘flexibilization’) and the heat utilisation was secured by the grid expansion of a nearby industrial area.

- The key priority in the UK is to increase the number of biogas plants at regional level. ISABEL triggered and supported the operation of one AD unit in the UK (by Positive Activities on the perimeter of Grimsby -“Eco Conservation Centre”), while plans are currently active for installing several other small scale plants.

- The concept of community energy is extremely recent in Greece. There is lack of awareness among the local actors of the possibilities of utilizing organic waste for energy production. At the same time, recent respective legislation (i.e. entered into force in January 2018) introducing the concept of Energy Communities is not fully applied as the necessary implementation directives are still under development. However, some highly motivated and committed energy communities supported by the ISABEL partners, after completing the respective preparatory feasibility studies, are already in the process of searching for funding to initiate the process for constructing a biogas plant.

Finally, close collaboration with the Southern Africa Biogas Association and the Development Agency of the 55 countries of the African Union was established in order to transfer the experience gained regarding the challenges and opportunities for setting up biogas community energy initiatives.