The picture of energy communities and their role in the future integrated energy system is becoming increasingly clear. What do customers think about energy communities and what experiences have they already had with them?


Answers to these questions were provided by the session “Energy Communities from the Customer’s Perspective”, which Green Energy Lab held on 27 May 2020 as the 3rd Innovator Circle Event in the Mission Innovation Austria online event series.


At the opening, Michael Paula from the Federal Ministry for Climate Action (BMK) and Theresia Vogel from the Climate and Energy Fund underlined the importance of cooperation for innovation and sustainability. They emphasised the essential role of the RTI initiative “Energy Showcase Region”, with its three showcase regions Green Energy Lab, NEFI and WIVA P&G, in strengthening Austria as a location for innovation in the face of global competition.


Afterwards it was the turn of Green Energy Lab as host: Susanne Supper, Cluster Manager of Green Energy Lab, explained the strong focus on system integration of renewable energy and the involvement of customers in innovation projects. The topic of energy communities represents a crystallization point for both aspects; Green Energy Lab therefore took up the topic not only within the framework of the Innovator Circle event, but also, for example, in a recently published Green Tech Radar publication, which was also dedicated to the topic of energy communities and represents a service offer by Green Energy Lab for its Innovator Circle members. The Innovator Circle already includes more than 200 partner companies, which represent the central pool for the development and implementation of energy innovation projects. This central role in the energy innovation system was also recently underlined in a survey of Innovator Circle members presented by Christian Kurz, R&D Manager in the Green Energy Lab.
After the kick-off, which focused on the Green Energy Lab, a wide range of exciting technical presentations awaited the more than 150 participants.


In their joint presentation, Jan Fath from Energie Steiermark and Dominik Jarmer from EVN described their experiences to date with customer expectations of energy communities: Following the quote from Epicurus, according to which “the human community does not exist by nature, but for the sake of convenience and need”, they dealt with the wishes and needs of customers in several studies. A key finding is that complexity should be reduced and that energy communities need a driver who can bring in the appropriate expertise and drive the project forward.


Fritz Dimmel, co-founder of the start-up company eFriends GmbH, which offers a digital electricity market place – combined with an analogue “Energy Balance Watch for the visualisation of the energy balance – already provided a concrete approach how energy communities can be realised. Via the platform, customers can easily trade their self-produced electricity with each other.


The use of a digital platform was also presented by Johannes Reichl of the Energy Institute at the Johannes Kepler University of Linz as an important tool for involving customers. According to the European ECHOES survey, which Reichl presented, the majority of the people from more than 20 countries surveyed believe that they can contribute to a sustainable energy future through their own behaviour.
Daniel Bell, sociologist at the University of Applied Sciences Technikum Wien, also highlighted the role and influence of individuals, and in his presentation he referred to the lessons learned about user involvement using the example of the Green Energy Lab project R2EC – Regional Renewable Energy Cells.


Sabine Erber, architect and project manager at the Energy Institute Vorarlberg, described the findings from the simulation of a local energy community using the village of Sibratsgfäll in the Bregenz Forest as an example: “From the simulated scenarios, no economic operation of a local energy community could be deduced, but the possibility of implementing a communal community facility could.
Thomas Vogel, project manager at Energie Tirol, also took up this idea: He contributed the experience gained from the implementation of a community PV plant in Tyrol, which was the basis for the development of recommendations for action – also with regard to legal (model contracts) and financial (allocation key) aspects.


Christian Reichel of Wien Energie concluded the series of lectures with an insight into the Viennese project Viertel Zwei, in which the idea of community goes far beyond the energy dimension. Thus, not only energy community approaches are pursued, but also innovative mobility concepts for the residents in the district or IoT approaches for new, urban living.


In the spirit of involvement and interaction, the more than 150 participants in the online event were asked several times to give their personal assessments on specific questions concerning energy communities: The various queries revealed a high level of interest and also a high level of personal interest in actively participating in an energy community. Especially the aspects “personal contribution to a sustainable energy system”, “regionality” and “active participation” scored highly with the participants.


We would like to thank the Green Energy Lab for the content, all speakers and the more than 150 participants for a successful event and the lively interest!