December 2020: „A project in transition in a society in transition“
In this challening time of isolation and social distance the COBEN Extension has offically launched. Unneccasary to say that these unprecedented times raised challenges in the management and execution of the COBEN project. Nontheless, through ingenuity and creative adaptation, COBEN continues to succeed and is now represented in the entire North Sea Region, with two new partners having joined out team: Uppsala municipality in Sweden and Veolia NV-SA. New focus areas include the market uptake of civic energy, digitalization, policy innovation, and measures to mainstream the civic energy process.
The municipality of Uppsala has ambitious climate and energy goals with the target to be climate positive by 2050. Civic energy projects and local energy communities is considered as a part of the solution for the energy transition. Work on the market uptake of civic energy has started through the development of risk management strategies. Despite this challenging COVID situation, in which workshops, events, meetings were canceled and replaced by digital meetings, Veolia has already succeeded in initiating and/or further developing three civic energy projects in Flanders. In this project period, a focus has been on expanding the project region, spreading the project results and methodologies to a larger area, and developing a closer cooperation between neighbouring regions, which has been accomplished, e.g. through the transformation of the project region from Østfold to the larger region Viken.
But the successes of the first phase in the COBEN-Extension does not end there:
Localy Generated Emmen has been established as a support structure for local energy communities, through which the expertise and manpower needed to get civic energy projects off the ground is organized. The Emmen partner project is focused on generating community benefits from large scale solar parks in Emmen. The Hochschule Osnabrück has started to answer the question: "What are the success factors for citizen energy communities?“ From this qualitative research, first findings about success factors for citizen energy cooperatives could be derived. Ringkøbing-Skjern Kommune consolidated the pilot project “Citizen Driven Transport System - Electric Vestrum” - and is taking the first steps towards the partner specific objectives: extending the municipality’s sector-coupling policy to deploy surplus renewable energy capacity to benefit community development, building-up sustainable rural community energy consortiums with a particular focus on e-mobility solutions and social cohesion as change agents of green transitions, and building on the experience of the “Citizen Driven Transport System – Electric Vestrum” to explore the potential of micro e-mobility. The Provincie Oost-Vlaanderen has made The Heat Transition vision of Eeklo available to inspire other communities and cities. They also selected four new pilots in which they support the realization of civic energy.
Implementation work continues in all COBEN locations: the number of pilot projects has been increased with new pilots representing different stages of the Civic Energy Cycle.
The COBEN project, originally due to end in 2019, has now been granted an extension until September 2022. New focus areas include the market uptake of civic energy and measures to mainstream the civic energy process. The partnership will be joined by VEOLIA Benelux and Uppsala Municipality ensuring that COBEN is now represented in all North Sea countries.
December 2019: Civic energy on the European map
The project's consistent methodology is paying off. The process approach to promoting civic energy within a closely-knit transnational consortium has resulted in substantial progress in meeting the project's declared objectives of communicating the benefits of civic energy and enabling the pilot communities to mobilize local energy value chains in 14 NSR municipalities. Following the development work of previous periods and the ongoing cooperation within the project's expanded networks the interaction with policy makers in the new area of civic energy legislation at European, national and regional levels has intensified. The range of civic energy business models developed and tested in six NSR national frameworks has attracted growing attention; they show how civic energy works and how it can be organized.
Promotional highlights include the transnational Civic Energy Conference in September 2019, which successfully put civic energy and the role of the NSR in piloting community-driven energy transitions onto the European map. The Conference followed a well-attended Norwegian conference on smart climate solutions in June, a Parliamentary Evening in Hannover in May, COBEN workshop contributions to the North Sea Conference 2019 and the European Sustainable Energy Week 2019.
Implementation work continues in all COBEN locations: the number of pilot projects has been increased and the rewards are becoming increasingly visible, including e.g. the installation of two community solar parks in Emmen and bioenergy investments by the farming community of Østfold that have replaced 1.272.829 kWh of fossil energy by renewable energy solutions within the project period, thereby reducing CO2 emissions by 316 tons.
The project continues to combine social innovation with regional development in the critical field of energy systems. Although the EU objective of establishing a level playing field between community-led energy and centralized energy systems is still a vision for the future, the development of transferrable civic energy blueprints makes this vision attainable. COBEN is currently projecting an extension of its geographical outreach to include a large Swedish municipality and new forms of public-private partnerships to master the energy transition challenge.
December 2018: Civic energy is here to stay
Year 2 of the COBEN project has seen a boom of activity in mainstreaming civic energy and promoting the shift from the centralised energy system to local value chains. The COBEN pilots have convincingly demonstrated the wide range real benefits for communities that take (back) control of their energy portfolio.
Long seen as a niche affair, civic energy has now been given a clear process design, the Civic Energy Cycle, that makes it easier for local initiatives to structure their mobilization and planning efforts more effectively. This is a first key step to professionalizing civic energy.
With hundreds of stakekolders now enrolled in each COBEN pilot the potential of community energy has been extended beyond the former focus on electricity generation:
- In Eeklo, East Flanders, the launch of a new district heating network run by a public-private partnership was celebrated at the Eeklo Heat Conference. A comprehensive guide has been published to trigger the spread of civic energy throughout the province.
- Ringkjøbing-Skjern in West Jutland has empowered village energy clubs to promote home energy renovation via participatory budgeting with a common village heating solution now underway in Stauning. Holiday home rental agencies have been enrolled to promote energy optimization. Close cooperation with village clusters has resulted in inroads into a “Citizen Driven Transport System” that exploits new potentials for local ownership.
- Østfold County Council and the County Governor have joined forces with the farming community to use the procurement tools of the Agrol farmers’ cooperative to make the vision of fossil-free farming a real option for the very near future.
- In the Dutch municipality of Emmen two cooperative-run solar fields have been installed with the help of the service desk Lokaal Opgewekt Emmen. The team is equipped with all the project management, financial, tax, legal, technical and spatial planning expertise needed to support citizen renewable energy initiatives and is currently mobilizing a 20% local share in new RE projects. Civic energy projecting extends to cross-border prosumer cooperation with the German town of Haren. The goal is to secure the revenues of energy trading within the region to the benefit of local communities.
- The district of Osnabrück has seen the set-up of two district heating networks supplied by biogas and natural gas with projecting underway in additional hotspots to manage heat sinks and balance heat demand with waste heat production. The results of 12 feasability studies and a simulation tool to assist waste heat capture are available for transfer of know-how to other communities.
- In the Highlands & Islands 4 Local Energy Plans have been developed and published for the representative communities of Brae, Drumnadrochit, Barra & Vatersay and Oban together with a Guide to Developing Local Energy Plans. The pilot activities are closely aligned with Scottish Government’s Local Heat and Energy Efficiency Strategies (LHEES). Local Steering Groups oversee implementation of the plans.
The developed civic energy blueprints will be used to promote the transfer of COBEN solutions to other communities. 2019 will see the delivery of the matching business models that are currently being inventorized.
Legislative support for civic energy initiatives is expected from the European Commission’s new energy market design proposals. COBEN will continue its constructive dialogue with DG Energy, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Commmittee of the Regions with a view to establishing a level playing field between centralized corporate energy and local energy initiatives.
November 2017: The first year of COBEN
The first year of the COBEN workplan has focussed on systemizing its strategic approach and on consolidating selected community consortiums that act as hosts to the project’s pilot initiatives. Highlights were generated at two levels:
- Welding of a highly committed and cooperative working partnership and installation of effective project management structures
- Development and adoption of a uniform TQM-based project methodology that implements project strategy and promotes effective cooperation between the pilot projects.
- Cooperation to promote civic energy initiated with the European Economic and Social Committee
- Strategy exchanges with two North Sea Commission Working Groups
Pilot project level
- Consolidation of a powerful regional consortium to promote community climate protection
- Relase of the PINA online-tool to match waste heat resources and heat demand
- Selection of five hotspots for the development of civic energy blueprints
- Set-up of a Collective Development Team to provide all needed expertise for the implementaion of renewable energy projects
- Start-up support to three solar energy cooperatives provided by the newly established service desk Locally Generated Emmen
- Adoption of a spatial plan for large-scale solar energy by Emmen City Council
- Development of a hybrid energy solution at village scale
- Cooperation with University of Aarhus to provide a heat-on-demand optimization model for households not connected to district heating network
- Build-up of a consultancy framework for home energy
- Successful workshop planning to empower municipalities to take the lead in re-designing heat supply
- Mobilisation of resources and support for a Heating Congress in Eeklo in 2018
- Enrolment of business and community support for the launch of the Eeklo Heating Network in April 2018
- Successful enrolment of the farming community
- Market Conference to promote solar energy and extensive social media coverage
- Development of an agricultural procurement partnership to enable alternative energy investments
Highlands & Islands:
- Enrolment of Scottish Government, Highland & Islands Enterprise, Planning Aid for Scotland and Local Energy Scotland to promote the COBEN objectives
- Four local areas with representative local energy challenges (Oban, Drumnadrochit, Brae/Shetland, Isle of Barra, Isle of Vatersay) selected as COBEN focus areas out of 22 Expressions of Interest; Local Steering Groups launched in each location
- Development of three tenders for methodology and modelling, community stakeholder engagement and implementation support and expertise