Cleanwatts, a cleantech digital company based in Coimbra, Portugal, established its first renewable energy community in Miranda do Douro, a rural village in northern Portugal in August 2021.
The community here is part of Cleanwatt’s “100 Aldeias” or “100 villages” project, designed to fight energy poverty by creating energy communities in at least 100 rural, isolated villages across Portugal. As part of the initiative, Cleanwatts will be delivering affordable clean energy to over 25,000 families. Community members experience markedly lower energy prices by purchasing locally sourced clean energy from prosumers, while prosumers themselves increase their returns by trading surplus energy within the community.
The energy community in Miranda do Douro is centred around buildings, including nursing homes and a kindergarten, belonging to the Santa Casa da Misericórdia de Miranda do Douro, which is a large Christian Portuguese charitable organisation. Starting the community here was strategic; Maria highlights how the Santa Casa da Misericórdia are respected, influential, and “close to the population.” Their involvement in the “100 villages” project encouraged locals to join the energy community, and improve their awareness of the benefits of solar power.
Miranda do Douro’s energy community has a production capacity of 73.3 kW with the solar panels it has installed. In its first year, the community was able to save around €31,500 on its electricity bills.
The community has now entered its second phase of encouraging new members to join. Cleanwatts plans to install solar panels on a small hotel, while also bringing in more families to the project.
On why Cleanwatts chose to install solar, rather than another renewable energy technology in their first energy community, Maria affirms that, “the solar approach is a lot more efficient...in time, we all add more technologies and build up the project with other solutions like batteries, EV chargers for example...”
With the success of their renewable energy communities, Cleanwatts are seeing a huge demand for solar power in Portugal. Maria stresses that with the energy crisis, people need help, and want to “install PV panels right now.” Municipalities have even approached the company in order to install more PV panels and establish more energy communities. She thinks that the government’s openness to collaboration with companies like Cleanwatts will “make a difference when tackling energy poverty.”
Energy poverty is severe in Portugal, affecting over 600,00 people, and proving one of the main motivators behind Cleanwatts’ “100 villages” project. She asserts that Portugal is “one of the few countries in Europe where more people are dying because of the cold and trying to heat their homes....It’s infuriating because there is a very warm climate.”
In Portugal, Maria also stresses that there are unnecessary delays in the licensing of renewable energy projects. She says, “it’s been a struggle because Portugal is a very bureaucratic country.” Michael adds that as part of the permitting process for creating energy communities in Portugal is still paper-based (and not yet digitalised), this is causing a huge delay. He says, “until recently, there’s been a long backlog of energy communities waiting for permission to get started. Cleanwatts amongst others have been pushing for the process to be accelerated so that more energy communities can be established.”
We want to have 50 fully functioning energy communities by the end of 2023...We also want to spread more communities around the country, and cover around 90% of Portugese territory. We have more work to do, and that’s just in Portugal...At the same time, we’re hoping to establish communities elsewhere, particularly in Italy. We also have a team in the United States who are working on several energy community projects. Portugal is our sandbox. Here we’ll test, and learn what to do before replicating in other countries.