Empowering light

Winter is coming.  

And now, while energy prices in Europe are soaring and consumers are ironing at night, Valencia, in Spain, found the solution to reducing the electricity bill and contributing to the green transition: the establishment of local energy communities. 

We call everything 'smart' and 'intelligent', but the smartest thing is the person. If we make the person aware, then we begin to get to the resolution of these issues.
— José Villalba Ruiz

“We believe the current model is neither fair, nor efficient, or renewable, or sustainable over time. It is a model that does not empower citizens. It is an outdated model in which energy is in the hands of very few and is managed in an opaque way. People do not know what their bill is like, where its entries come from, why they are charged and how energy is being managed,” says Carlos Sánchez, CEO  of the Foundation València Clima i Energia. 

All-in-one: Cheaper, sustainable, independent and solidarity-based

Valencia’s solution entails that a family household participates with an initial investment of €600, which can turn into a saving of €100-150 per year. To make things smoother, the Regional Government grants up to 50% of the initial investment.

The produced energy is local, renewable and has no transport losses, and it gives sense to the neighbourhood rooftops as they serve “for more than to hang the clothes after washing them,” as Carlos puts it. 

Sustainability has an environmental, economic, and social component.
— José Villalba Ruiz

But it even goes beyond that. “Sustainability has an environmental, economic, and social component,” states José Villalba Ruiz, Head of the Climate Emergency and Energy Transition service. The local energy communities have a vocation to share part of the energy generation with those who cannot access it and are at risk of exclusion. “It makes citizens feel proud of what they are doing because they see this works better for their city,” says Villalba Ruiz.

Setting up your own energy system 

The first step is to associate. Carlos explains it works the same way as any business, sports group or neighbourhood association. The goal is “to start associating for energy and start talking about it, start making it their own, start making decisions and start empowering themselves,” explains the CEO. Only six people are required to install an independent energy system. 

Image credit: Fundation Clima i Energia Valencia

After that, let’s find a place. Citizens can use their residential building, or even copartner with a school, or with the administration to use public space. Anything could work if the owners or residents agree. Individuals, small businesses, anyone can participate as long as they live within a radius of 500 meters from the building where the energy is generated. 

After the installation, you can enjoy your own consumption! No restrictions or price changes. You could even consume electricity at peak hours without an increase. 

Castellar local energy community, in Valencia
Territory covered by the energy generated by Castellar

How they lighted the bulb  

A participatory process was put in place for citizens to define how they wanted to associate within the initiative. The Council had provided them with knowledge of the regulatory framework and started working on it by generating two pilot tests. 

Climate change is linked to human activity. The effects that come on top of the negative consequences are going to be even worse than expected because what we are doing is very slow.
— José Villalba Ruiz

The first energy park was built this year on a public roof given by the Council. The surrounding residents can form a local community and install renewable energy and share it. In a couple of months, it will be up and running. 

The other one is on a private roof in a neighbourhood in the vicinity of the Energy office. Carlos expresses his excitement when he says that in the last two months, four more local energy communities have been generated spontaneously. “For us is very cool because it shows that the work we are doing to promote this work through course workshops, training, communication talks, accompanying, word of mouth, works.” 

Presentation of the local energy community Castellar

Charging batteries  

However, José explains, convincing citizens of the efficiency of this project is indeed the main challenge. “At one extreme, there are people who are deniers, who do not agree with these statements, who do not believe in this at all, nor do they believe in vaccines. At the other extreme, very conscientious people who, by principles, develop a sustainable life compatible with the protection of the planet. Those are already involved in this issue. And then there is a great mass to whom it is necessary to reach, it is necessary to convince.” 

Image credit: Fundation Clima i Energia Valencia

The current model is neither fair, nor efficient, or renewable, or sustainable over time. It is a model that does not empower citizens. It is an outdated model in which energy is in the hands of very few and is managed in an opaque way.
— Carlos Sánchez

For that reason, José emphasises the importance of Carlos’ mission in raising awareness from the Office of Energy. “We like to say that we are the link that connects the administration with the citizens because we have facilities through which thousands of people pass every year to become aware of what climate change is, what they can do to adapt or to mitigate its effects,” explains Carlos.

“And the Office of Energy is here to report on the energy transition, how they can save at home, how they can implement renewable energy. How can they do their bit or what they have to do if they can’t pay the energy bill,”  he added.

They went even further and presented the initiative to the business sector. They propose the establishment of an energy park that would power companies and close residents. “We can’t miss any opportunity. What this report tells us is that we are going very slowly, that climate change is linked to human activity, that the effects that come on top of the negative consequences are going to be even worse than expected because what we are doing is very slow.” 

Image credit: Fundation Clima i Energia Valencia

Indeed, José believes in word of mouth. He is genuinely convinced the success of the local communities will bring exponential interest among citizens. “We call everything smart and intelligent, but the smartest thing is the person. If we make the person aware, then we begin to get to the resolution of these issues.” 

Author:
Marta Buces Eurocities Writer