Successful energy transitions need to be empowered and resourced to be led locally, to be ambitious and smart. It needs to target results but to engage with the complexity of the challenge and potential benefits of action (rather than multiple siloed approaches looking at specific sectors). 

                        ―Anonymous participant mPower Exchange

In 2019/20, 20 cities from across Europe took part in the peer-peer learning programme mPower Exchange. Structured around city visits, mPOWER Exchange enabled local authorities to spend face-to-face time exploring, understanding and developing new and existing energy projects. With five themed learning sets based on geographical location and energy system focus, this highly participatory learning programme was focused on exchanging practical knowledge and expertise.

It included online expert witness accounts from practitioners in the field, study visits, peer group learning sessions and individual and collective action research supported by the group facilitators. At the end of the programme each city developed a replication project inspired by best practice from within their groups and beyond. In November last year the groups came together to share challenges and learnings across the groups.

The focus themes were domestic retrofit, local energy communities and renewables expansion. Some additional themes crystalised in the process, namely stakeholder engagement and decarbonising heat. We will publish some of the key findings from each theme in a series of blog posts.

FOCUS TOPIC 3: Renewables Generation

In 2019-20 4 cities explored the possibilities for large scale renewables generation. Visits to Frankfurt and Barcelona accelerated learning on how to: create a step change in solar generation uptake in the private sector, deliver large scale solar projects on city owned land and roofs and tackle energy poverty. Sessions with experts provided information on future generation and storage innovations and the possibilities for creating energy communities.

 

Tackling Energy Poverty

A proactive strategy and early intervention is needed by municipalities to tackle energy poverty. For example, Barcelona City Council installed 2300 energy advice points. They informed 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. Advice points in shops, fire stations, doctors surgeries has meant that people are not too embarrassed by their situation to seek help. They have initiated travelling exhibitions and public information campaigns about saving energy, reducing bills, people’s rights and climate change. The City Council took an active role in the energy market to facilitate power generation by residents and manage energy production and marketing, guaranteeing an adequate supply to all people in situations of risk and/or in financial difficulties. 

In Frankfurt, energy consultants visit low-income householders with advice about saving energy. Energy advisors are formerly unemployed people who receive training for 6 months. They visit 1000 households a year. 

Some factors for success in tackling energy poverty may include: the extent and accessibility of public engagement and outreach, whether there is a supportive national policy framework and how much the city can control local energy provision guaranteeing supply to those in need. 

For example, in Spain, an anti-poverty law passed by the Catalan parliament in 2015 preventing people living in precarious situations from being cut off from the electricity supply if they default on their energy bills. The social discount (Bono Social) is a government-run programme which reduces energy bills by 25% or 40%, depending on an applicant’s economic situation.  Some cities have their own energy company. Barcelona set one up in 2018.

 

Driving PV Solar Installation on the Roofs of Private Companies

This was seen as a more significant challenge as the local authorities had less control than in other contexts, for example in public spaces owned and managed by them. The cities identified some other challenges:

  • National support schemes such as feed in tariffs can be blunt instruments and, in some cases, prevent local targeted support being directed where it is most needed. For example, in Germany, support schemes for businesses to install roof solar PV may mean they attract less financial support from the feed in tariff and lead to less overall support so other forms of support or incentives may be more appropriate
  • Cost savings through generating energy through PV solar may not be significant enough to drive businesses to embark on installing it. 
  • Expertise is a significant barrier to businesses installing PV solar. 

As a solution, in Frankfurt, they have piloted a direct marketing approach. This includes a free of charge assessment of energy efficiency (energy efficiency check-ups) and energy saving potential for each company that is willing to participate in the program. The City Council already offers a similar service for the assessment of the PV-potential of companies (solar check-ups). They are exploring expanding this pilot to the city-wide level.

In Barcelona they are exploring the following levers:

  • bonuses on municipal taxes
  • awareness and communication – promoting the benefits of self-consumption and self-generation at the industrial level through the presentation of success stories
  • directly supporting concrete initiatives that generate knowledge and synergies and making possible for new actors to appear as a result of the generation needs
  • direct city – level involvement with the professional sector such installers; housing associations, property managers, engineers
  • streamlining relevant procedures and regulations to  make it easier to install PV on roofs and façades, avoiding problems of architectural integration

The city of Barcelona began by:

  • making a map of actors, activating the relations between companies willing to invest and manage facilities and potential users of this energy with interested spaces
  • researching the technical and financial support needed for projects such as: different economic models that relate to owner-generator-operator-investor, possible economic incentives

 

Large Scale Renewables Projects in City-owned Spaces

A visit to several large scale publicly owned PV solar projects (Pèrgola Forum, Biblioteca Joan Miró, Pèrgola Joan Miró, Fàbrica del Sol) in Barcelona provided inspiration for the group and led to the following learnings:

  • Large scale renewables projects are a strong statement from the city showing its commitment to renewable energy and renewable energy becomes more visible
  • Renewables projects in city owned spaces enable local authorities to drive carbon reductions in their area
  • If the city is using its own land to install renewables it can involve energy communities as owners and/or users and regenerate disused space making it an asset to the community
  • Renewables installed in public places can be used for directly for lighting
  • Large scale renewables in public places can also be used for shadowing enabling adaptation to climate change especially in hotter climates.

 

Quotes from participants

We need to play an active role in the energy market! A publicly owned power company: to generate renewable, local energy, to link consumption and generation (net balance), to encourage self-supply with no fear of surpluses.

Irma Soldevilla, head of Barcelona Energy Agency

Additional resources

Energia Barcelona – Renewable energy generation in municipal buildings and spaces

Barcelona – More solar energy for a sustainable and self-sufficient city

Plymouth Energy Community – citizen owned solar

Going Solar: Mouscron City (BE) going full swing for citizen energy!

Building blocks for Climate Protection – Frankfurt am Main 2017 – 2018

Pamplona – support for self consumption drives energy transition