Barcelona Energía: public power to tackle energy poverty and achieve energy sovereignty
By Rafael Moreno Pérez, Barcelona Energy Agency
The Barcelona Energy Agency (AEB) is a public consortium that consists of a number of authorities that are directly involved in managing energy and the environment: Barcelona City Council, Barcelona Metropolitan Area, the Catalan Energy Institute, the Autonomous University of Barcelona and the Polytechnic University of Catalonia. AEB aims to boost the city’s reputation as a benchmark city in terms of promoting energy saving and energy efficiency, and enhancing knowledge about and the use of renewable energy.
As part of this, Barcelona City Council created a new municipal retailer in 2018, Barcelona Energía (BE), to serve as a key municipal tool contributing to the city’s energy transition. BE involves citizens in decision-making, and aims to increase energy efficiency, deliver renewable energy at affordable prices and address energy poverty. The ultimate goal is to achieve energy sovereignty by installing solar power panels on the roofs of residential and public buildings across Barcelona.
Barcelona Energy Agency and mPOWER Exchange
The City of Barcelona takes part in the mutual learning programme mPOWER Exchange. In October 2019, the City of Frankfurt hosted the first meeting of mPOWER’s Working Group on Renewable Energy, with representatives from Pamplona, London, Metz, Vienna and Barcelona. Although the various different cities face different challenges, the productive and friendly workshop, facilitated by Platform London, helped us learn from our colleagues’ plans and successes with respect to driving their local energy transitions.
Representatives from Metz and Frankfurt shared how they are creating synergies between different municipal spaces including metropolitan, urban and industrial zones. Vienna presented innovative ways of implementing District Heating technology, and Pamplona introduced us to their city’s new democratic political culture. All these ideas and the learning exchange have been of great use for AEB, enabling us to implement a decentralised, socially just and renewable energy supply, a political project that has gained traction since then.
Citizen participation and public accountability in Barcelona Energy Agency
The Right to Energy movement nurtured the emergence of Barcelona en Comú, a citizens’ alliance that now governs Barcelona City Council. The alliance aims to democratise and decentralise decision-making in the city and is responsible for the implementation of several measures to counter energy poverty.
BE was established by the City Council and the Barcelona Energy Agency as part of this process. The new municipal retailer purchases energy from producers and distributes it to the citizens, seeking to break away from being dependent upon the profit-oriented oligopolistic model that dominates the Spanish energy market. It advocates for universal access to clean and renewable energy and the equitable distribution of energy as a basic right.
The Council of Users of Barcelona Energía (Consejo de Usuarios), which is at the heart of the organisation, consists of consumers with voting rights and neighbourhood associations, who do not vote but can voice their opinions. It now consists of 85 participants who have collectively developed several proposals already. Collaborative decision-making is employed in workshops and meetings, and through the virtual participative platform DECIDIM. It puts strategic proposals to the municipal company and participates in decision-making, including decisions on investments and tariff regulations. It also monitors and evaluates the energy-related measures taken by the municipality.
Comprehensive planning for an energy transition
Barcelona is part of the Energy Cities Network, which supports cities to develop and implement ambitious plans for municipal energy transition. Barcelona’s initial reference plan was its Climate Plan, which relates to the value of and need for the energy transition in order to protect the climate, and contains short-term actions clustered under four long-term objectives (to be met by 2030):
- Mitigation: reducing greenhouse gases by 45% compared to 2005
- Adaptation/resilience: increasing the total amount of green space by 1.6km2 and reducing demand for water to just 100 litres of water per resident per day
- Climate justice: ensuring nobody suffers from energy poverty
- Promotion of citizen action: allocating 12 million euros to citizens’ projects
The 164 pages contain many commitments that will add up to a clean and citizen-led energy transition. For instance, the city aims to multiply solar power generation by five and reduce energy consumption by about 10% compared to 2008.
These objectives and actions were extended by the Barcelona-based Climate Emergency Committee and a Sustainable Council working group consisting of a variety of national and municipal actors. As a result of its involvement in this collective work, Barcelona produced a Climate Emergency Declaration, which came into force in January 2020. Citizens and social and productive sector representatives were invited to participate in four workshop sessions and via the virtual platform DECIDIM.
The Climate Emergency Declaration includes an updated 2020-2025 Climate Action Plan to be implemented by the City Council and monitored and evaluated by the Committee.
Fighting energy poverty
In 2015, a law was passed preventing people living in precarious situations from being cut off from the electricity supply if they defaulted on their energy bills (which happened frequently following the 2008 financial crisis). This success was largely the result of public protest organised by groups such as the Alliance against Energy Poverty (Alianza contra la Pobreza Energética (APE)), and led to the emergence of Barcelona en Comú and its control of the City Council, as described above. These developments heralded the subsequent implementation of other measures to counter energy poverty as well, including:
- The social discount (Bono Social). This is a government-run programme which reduces energy bills by 25% or 40%, depending on an applicant’s economic situation. BE provides information and support during the application process.
- Eleven consultation spaces across the city, which are run by Barcelona City Council in order to inform citizens about their right to energy, offering them help with paying bills and dealing with distributors, reconnecting households that have been cut off, and providing information about installing solar power panels on their roofs.
Building energy sovereignty with solar power
Only 1% of the city’s energy is produced locally, meaning that the city is responsible for high greenhouse gas emissions in other places. Additionally, many buildings are energy inefficient. For these reasons, the municipality offers public grants and subsidies for energy-related renovations. It has also developed a scheme to transform terraces and roof spaces into decentralised photovoltaic power plants (solar parks).
AEB has complemented this by developing a comprehensive and publicly accessible map that demonstrates the potential for solar energy generation in the different parts of the city, identifying specific buildings and the size and exact position of rooftops. New photovoltaic installations are supported by BE, which covers up to 50% of the initial costs of energy rehabilitation.
In 2018, Barcelona City Council also introduced a programme to promote and increase renewable and local energy generation across the city. The programme aims to increase energy generated from solar power by 20%. It identifies four different sets of measures which are differentiated according to whether the ownership of the building and the origin of the investment needed are public or private or a combination of both.
To sum up, Barcelona City Council has successfully developed comprehensive plans for a democratic energy transition rooted in popular participation and public accountability, and the public electricity company, Barcelona Energía, is committed to contributing to the energy transition and combatting energy poverty. These measures are expected to move Barcelona closer towards energy sovereignty, enabling it to move away from fossil fuels and break free of the oligopolistic energy market.
About the author:
Rafael Moreno from Barcelona: Licensed in Civil Engineering (UPC and UCAM), and in Building Engineering (UPC). Over the course of 18 years he has developed civil works projects including urbanisation, roads, railways, airports and bus stations. Since February 2018, he has been responsible for developing different projects for the Barcelona Energy Agency, especially related to renewable energy generation.
This blog article was co-created by Lukas Toedte and is part of the mPOWER blog series in which cities and towns share how they are building better energy futures.
Title Image Credit: Barcelona En Comú on Flickr