What are energy communities and how are they growing. Where every citizen benefits from being virtuous and responsible

The great challenge that we call the energy transition, namely the transition to the consumption of energy produced from renewable and non-fossil sources, is faced with two major problems.

The first is objective: renewable energies, such as wind and photovoltaics, are difficult to store, and therefore must be consumed within little time since their accumulation.

The second question is perhaps even more complex, because it closely concerns ourselves, the consumers, with our laziness and a propensity for change to be encouraged. In many cases, perhaps to be invented.

For this reason, communities and energy districts are a growing novelty to be followed in their development, those realities that transform a group of people, a condominium or an entire neighborhood, into a mini power plant where energy is no longer just something. to buy, but to produce and circulate, in fact, for the community.

“Those who are part of an energy community are not only consumers, but can also assume the role of prosumer, i.e. producer/consumer who no longer receives a bill, but has real-time data on the production and consumption of the community, including the own production/consumption balance. From the web he discovers how much energy he has consumed in a certain period and how much he has introduced into the system”, explains Stefano Converso, professor at the Third University of Rome and one of the partners of the ReDream project, funded by the European Commission through the H2020 Research and Development framework program, which will test the implementation of the Energy Community in the territory of the Biodistrict of via Amerina

It is a Lazio community that unites thirteen municipalities, organic and sustainable tourism companies and intends to guide them towards a path of decarbonisation. The experimentation is carried out in collaboration with CiviESCoCivibank's Energy Service Company, present in Italy and Europe in decarbonization initiatives on an urban scale (Smart Cities), with Rimond and the University of Rome3.

But how do you generate energy for your community?

First of all, there is no need to have a solar system or a small wind power plant. “Even an electric car with a charge that is not completely consumed is enough: the community control unit reads that charge and feeds it into a system of communicating vessels in which energy is drawn in fact or virtually – from time to time where it exists. it is and is available, giving priority to the clean one produced by the community in terms of supply, so that it is not wasted”. 

As in a solidarity group, energy thus becomes a spendable currency. And like any coin, in addition to being spent, it can also be cashed:This pushes each member to become responsible, to focus on clean sources and to produce part of the energy that is then fed into the system. I pay what I consume, but I can also collect without spending or cutting the fixed costs of the bill, those that do not depend on consumption. And, finally, exchanging the energy value with that of other services within the same community, explains Converso.

The energy community is the most recent demonstration of that model of life in which ownershipof the car, the house, material goods in general counts less and less in favor of value in use. That is: we are interested in paying less and less to be owners and more and more to do it to use something only when we need it.

It is no coincidence that we speak of energy as a service, as in mobility. But unlike when we pay for car sharing, in this case we are also producers. And, like anyone who produces, we are driven to do it with more attention and care. In terms of energy, this means reducing waste and being more efficient. And this is where design comes into play: a smart energy production can become the flywheel to have smart homes and define a true smart living through a series of components that are all still to be designed, and are a great expressive space for us architects and designer. In Roma Tre, for example, we started at the time of the Solar Decathlon with a thermodynamic parapet and a photovoltaic curtain integrated into the loggia of our house; today we talk about many bonuses, but integration is a symptom of the fact that we still think of a system, something external, while instead the key is in the widespread symbiosis in the objects and parts of the houses. Bruce Sterling used to call them spime”.

Enea - National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development counted twelve well-established energy communities in Italy in a recent report, all no longer south of the province of Bologna. For a growth of these realities, the laws are decisive: “At the moment, users who insist on the same transformer cabins can exchange energy, but it will soon be possible to do so between users with the same postcode, which will make every district of all Italian cities a potential energy plant”.

The European Commission funded the ReDream project which has already started in Spain, Croatia and England. In Italy it could land in the province of Viterbo, where the Biodistretto of via Amerina is ready to push the center of gravity of this virtuous story a little further south.



Photos of the territory of the Biodistretto of via Amerina and the Forre in Lazio.