How local community can support a low carbon energy system

 In Energy

Over the year lots of research has been done on the topic of low carbon energy systems and their integration into local communities.

A new study from Lund University in Sweden seems to have found some answers in this sense.

The research argues that in order to achieve a successful transition to a low carbon system local communities need to invest in information sharing, local involvement and an overall perceived sense of fairness.

To demonstrate these concepts, the study focuses on two local communities, Samsø in Denmark and Feldheim in Germany, as examples of successful implementation of low-carbon energy systems.

Samsø and Feldheim as models of sustainable local communities

Samsø started is the path towards sustainable in 1998 and, after less than a decade, it became the world’s first 100 percent renewable energy-powered island, and has been addressed as one of the most successful examples of a sustainable energy community.

The revolution for this community started when, thanks to a grant offered by the Danish government, the community appointed and finance the work of Søren Hermansen, a Samsø native vegetable farmer and environmental teacher, as head of this transformation process.

Thanks to Søren work and the support of the local community, by 2000, 11 one-megawatt (MW) wind turbines were built, and they started providing the island’s 22 villages enough energy to make independent by the main power grid.

Furthermore, ten offshore wind turbines were built in 2002, providing 23MW of clean energy that could offset emissions from the island’s public transport, ferry, and cars connecting the island to the mainland.

In Germany Feldheim was the first energy self-sufficient town, with a community managed and owned electricity and heating grids, fully supplied by locally produced renewable energy.

As Samsø, this village is often described as an energy transition example to follow and model for the integration process of a community energy system.

The beginning of Feldheim energy experiment started in 1995 when entrepreneur Michael Raschemann came up with the idea of erecting four wind turbines on a land property of the local farming cooperative.

The experiment proved very successful and expanded beyond imagination. The newest and largest of the turbines built recently can produce 9 million kilowatt hours of electricity per year, and the whole village wind farm can generate such a large amount of renewable energy than 99 percent of the production is sold and goes back to the main grid.

Key elements of success for sustainable transition

Involving the local population in the decision-making process was one of the critical elements for the success of these experiments.

It also appeared that the fairness and openness of the process was for many more important than the benefits of the project itself.

Henner Busch, one of the researchers at The Department of Human Geography and co-authors of the study, explains these ideas further:

“We found that intensive information and consultation processes were critical to overcoming social, technical and economic barriers to implementation. We also found it was important for the communities to find fair solutions for those who were burdened with either negative or positive effects”

The study continues suggesting best practices for the implementation of these low carbon, sustainable, energy systems.

Fairness and good communication processes were quintessential elements of success and as Professor Luis Mundaca, from the International Institute for Industrial Environmental Economics, explains:

“Perceived fairness by those affected by the change is pivotal to increasing the perceived legitimacy of transition outcomes. If this is done correctly, even contested projects can be realised. This includes that stakeholders find the space to discuss and disagree. Communication channels and information sharing are therefore of prime importance”.

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