Energy communities are among the “new” players in the process that is leading our country towards decarbonisation.

A key role is played by the distribution network, the context in which we are evolving rapidly and the latter is called upon to transform itself accordingly to keep pace with market development.

According to a study by the Politecnico di Milano, within five years, there will be 40,000 energy communities involving more than one million households and ten thousand small/medium-sized enterprises.

The growing interest in them and their role in the energy transition is confirmed by the PNRR, the National Recovery and Resilience Plan, which has included among its measures some specific ones to encourage the spread of self-production and collective self-consumption, allocating over 2 billion euros. This budget would be used to install about 2,000MWp, which would be able to avoid the emission of about 1.5 million tonnes of COշ per year.

Energy communities: what are they?

They are ‘prosumer’ entities, i.e. producers and consumers at the same time.

In particular, Renewable Energy Communities can comprise a mix of individuals, as well as SMEs and local authorities, including municipalities, research and training, religious, third sector and environmental protection bodies.

They cooperate with the aim of producing and consuming energy through one or more local renewable energy plants within a defined area. Their participation is aimed at self-consumption, not at profit, but at the economic, social and environmental benefit of the area in which they operate.

Energy, within the community, can be shared either by using the public grid or by valuing and quantifying self-consumption, and the individual can change his or her choices in a transparent and flexible way.

In Italy, the first experiences of Renewable Energy Communities date back to the early 2000s: they were small entities located mainly in Northern Italy. Today there are about twenty.

These are mainly experimental projects, which aim to identify best practices on the topic and are mostly focused on photovoltaic generation plants between 20 and 50kWp.

Within the European panorama, Italy shows much lower numbers than Germany (1,750), Spain (33), Poland (34) and Belgium (34).

However, the legislative framework has made great strides forward thanks to the strong impetus given not only by historical requirements, but also and above all by supranational bodies such as the European Union.

Energy communities: the regulatory framework

The European Union has been one of the main drivers in the acceleration towards green policies, towards which governments are driven not only by the climate emergency, but also by continuous innovation:

  • 2008, with the approval of the first Climate and Energy Package, the EU had laid the foundations for the first actions to support investments in technologies for generating energy from renewable sources, introducing a series of targets, especially in the direction of a 20% reduction in emissions compared to 1990 levels and a 20% penetration of renewables in gross final consumption by 2020.
  • 2018 – 2019, with the Clean Energy Package, a set of directives with, among other things, the objective of reducing EU-wide emissions by 40% by 2030 and the target of 32% penetration of renewables in gross final consumption.

At the basis of the birth of Energy Communities, there are therefore guidelines and decisions at European level, in particular the so-called RED II, EU Directive 2018/2001, which, as part of the objective it had set itself, to regulate the promotion of renewable sources in the direction of the decarbonisation effort in view of 2030, has provided for the so-called RECs (Renewable Energy Communities).

In Italy, the regulation of this legal entity followed a transitional scheme in 2020 until the adoption, in 2021, of the relevant legislative decree no. 199/2021. The measures to be adopted in 2022 by the Regulatory Authority for Energy, Networks and the Environment (ARERA) to implement the Decree transposing the RED II Directive are currently being prepared.

While waiting for the final transposition of the directive, our country had already introduced, as mentioned, a transitional scheme in 2020, through DL 162/2019 “Milleproroghe” then converted into Law no. 8/2020, a sort of experimentation concerning the RECs to demonstrate the interest that has been generated towards this subject.

Energy communities: technology

The development of energy communities is also possible thanks to innovation in the generation of renewable energy, its storage and the monitoring of consumption for energy efficiency (thanks to “smart metering” devices and data exchange with the grid). All this contributes to maximising the use of dispatched energy.

Energy transition: RECs and the grid

With the advent of prosumers and energy communities, it is clear that we are shifting from a linear to a two-way energy model that is no longer centralised and based on fossil fuels, but decentralised and relies on renewables.

The network plays a key role in this scenario, in enabling responsible and shared consumption, it must be able to change as conditions, context, needs and customer behaviour change.