#SolarCities: Helping to make citizens the master of their energy
Cities are at the frontline of the energy transition. Solar is one of the key solutions to support cities in reducing their energy-related emissions and providing access to cheap, reliable energy for all! Furthermore, cities offer lots of rooftops and building space for solar PV to be placed, vital to ensuring Europe meets its energy and climate ambitions.
Ultimately, solar can support cities, and cities can support solar.
In this blog series, we will highlight 21 solar solutions for cities in the energy transition, starting off with how solar can help drive city climate and energy security goals. Read solutions 1-3 before diving in to 4-6 below!
Photo: © Ertex Solar_Dieter Moor
Deploying solar power in cities goes beyond private rooftops. When it comes to providing access to solar power for citizens, municipalities and solar project developers offer several business models to adapt to the size, location, and characteristics of local communities. Each model provides flexibility for citizens’ involvement, both as producers and consumers of renewable energy.
Citizens are willing to adopt solar PV solutions to lower their energy bills, and act for the climate. But they often lack information on their roof’s solar potential, or on technical and financial feasibility of solar projects. On top of it, while solar PV is the perfect candidate to reduce the energy bill and empower consumers, low-income households still face key difficulties in accessing solar solutions; they’re often renters, burdened by low credit ratings, or disenfranchised from information sources.
But good news! There are different solar models to address these issues, from energy sharing, to energy communities and distant self-consumption.
In European cities, most citizens live in multiapartment buildings, and often do not own their apartment or their rooftop. Even if they own the roof of their stand-alone building, it may not be suitable for solar PV. This creates difficulties for individual self-consumption. Energy sharing regimes provide a solution to this challenge. The concept allows solar PV owners to sell excess, unused electricity to neighbours above wholesale market prices but below supplier rates. It's a win-win for all participants!
When used locally, energy sharing can contribute to efficient load management, reducing strain on electricity grids.
In Switzerland, the country’s first energy quarter will be built in the Hohlen district of the Huttwil municipality. It will aim to cover electricity and heat demand through self-generation in the neighbourhood.
Photo: © Dietrich Michael Weidmann
Energy communities can facilitate the active participation of people in the energy transition at a local level. Joint purchase of modules and installation services for communities could also generate economies of scale. Energy communities are legally organised entities, focused on collective decision-making and governance structures. They are controlled by local shareholders or members, and prioritise value over profit. In contrast, energy sharing does not specify organisational requirements.
Serock is a small town of 4,000 inhabitants, located north of Warsaw in Poland. In February 2021, they launched ‘Sunny Serock,’ one of the first energy cooperatives in Poland and Central/Eastern Europe. The idea came from the municipality, who wanted to improve energy security and foster local development, while reducing emissions. They wanted to address citizens’ demand for more local support for renewables.
Individual self-consumption or energy schemes can sometimes be limited because of an availability of rooftops, or the complexity of defining such schemes. In order to respond to these challenges, some cities have chosen to locate the solar production site beyond the borders of the dwelling units, and offer schemes for distant self-consumption.
Peer-to-peer trading, also known as virtual energy sharing, involves the virtual exchange of electricity between consumers, through predetermined contractual conditions. Some countries like Lithuania, Belgium, and Slovenia, have variations of energy sharing known as ‘virtual net billing,’ where consumers can deduct off-site generation from their on-site consumption, regardless of location. This allows individuals to benefit from solar installations at their vacation homes while working in the city, or own shares in a power plant located far away.
In 2019, the Minoan Energy Community on the island of Crete established a PV plant with an output of 405 kW. In collaboration with the regional authority, and funded by the members of the energy community, the project will provide free electricity to 100 households and businesses in the municipality of Minoa Pediadas for the next 25 years.
Header image: © Marc Ryckaert