When I started my career at E.ON, I had the great privilege to work on some ground-breaking off-shore wind projects. I was inspired by the technology and impressed by the capabilities of the wind turbines that had already been introduced to the market. Since then, year on year, the turbine models were growing bigger and bigger and the industry was displaying an impressive speed of technological evolution.

Solar photovoltaic (PV) power is another example of a continuously growing renewables sector, with solar panels being installed on top of buildings or on the ground. This technology is also expected to become a major contributor in the future European sustainable energy mix. So, if the wind and PV industries are booming, why do some of us still not feel like an integral part of the energy transition movement? If I don’t own a roof or don’t have thousands of Euros spare to invest in a renewable energy plant, does that mean that I can’t contribute towards tackling one of the greatest challenges mankind has ever faced?

The parallel of eggs and the energy transition

A number of authoritative studies have been published in recent years, suggesting that the introduction of large PV and wind farms won’t be enough to achieve a fast and affordable energy transition. So, what can we do as individuals and as engaged citizens? To help explain where I stand on this, I’d like to use an analogy from the food industry.

Eggs are commonly used products throughout the world. When we buy eggs, we don’t generally search for specific brands, or change our buying habits when we are away from home. We just buy eggs, because we trust that regardless of the brand, the quality will be more or less the same. This is what can be called a commoditised product.

Over the last few years, consumer awareness has been raised over animal welfare issues in some chicken farms. Overcrowded, poor cared and suchlike. Unfortunately, the farms that were spending time and money on providing better conditions for their animals were struggling to keep their prices low. But as awareness of the poor standards in some chicken farms spread, consumers became more and more willing to do that little extra to support ethical farming.

We can see a similar change of attitude reflected in the energy sector. Clean energy movements around the world are waking us up. They are encouraging us to do something constructive about the climate change and find better ways to consume and save energy. Unfortunately, the food and the energy industries are not yet at the same level.

Now, let´s get back to the eggs metaphor. Imagine that you want to buy the “right eggs”. You don’t need to know the specifics about how farming works, but you want to buy them because you can afford them and because you want to do the right thing. Now, what happens if the “right eggs”, those coming from better treated chickens are available, but not at your local store or market. Would you go the extra mile and try to find out where you could buy them?

As we are all busy people – unfortunately – for many, the answer might be no. This means that while many people will be disappointed with not being able to buy the “right eggs”, they will anyways settle for buying the “wrong ones” that are available in your regular shop – at least just for now.

This is similar to what happens in the energy sector. There are tons of possibilities out there to take an active part at the energy transition, but they are not as easily accessible or understandable to the citizens as they should be.

Many consumers simply don’t have time to do research that is necessary for making an informed decision about changing their supplier or acquiring a new product. In fact, a report from E.ON revealed that at least one in every five respondents are actively interested in sustainable energy and are willing to pay more for a sustainable supplier, but do not have time to search for the right one. This research shows that there is a significant share of people who are willing to play an active part in creating a sustainable future. As a comparison, in Germany this would be more or less the same amount of people who have bought a PV system in the past 20 years.    

In other words, these are millions of citizens who want to contribute, but the right conditions for them to do it are not there yet. We cannot simply expect people, who are already so busy, to find that extra time. The industry needs to find ways to support citizens and come up with the right products and services to motivate them to take action while they continue being receptive and motivated to change.

Citizen Energy Communities for green people power and the circle of trust

The challenge of how to help citizens to “do the right thing” in a way that is actually do-able for them, has been a matter of research and debate in the past decade in the energy industry. Luckily, the European Commission (EC) has taken note about these challenges for consumers and the impact they have on the evolution of the energy transition. Hence, in 2016 the EC introduced a new initiative for the energy industry, designed to help with the “egg’s paradigm”. It is called Citizen Energy Communities.

The aim of Citizen Energy Communities (CEC) is to give people the power to collectively choose what’s best for them – to let them actively contribute to the energy transition and to help companies find new and innovative ways to bring sustainable solutions to their customers.

My team and I are working at full speed to make E.ON become one of the European leaders in Citizen Energy Communities initiatives. We systematically focus on finding the right components to not only enable energy communities technically, but also to establish a circle of trust for the citizens who are part of the community. These energy communities will be legally independent from energy industry players, making them fully autonomous in their decision-making process. I personally believe that if my team and I pro-actively contribute to creating them, then green energy will finally meet people’s power and the whole energy transition will experience a new boost, a new wave of change.

Across all of EU member states the implementation of the new citizen energy communities’ European Directive has started and in the upcoming months it will turn into national law. We are intensively tracking the concepts being adopted by the different countries and look forward to supporting our regional businesses to become a first mover in enhancing this topic in their respective markets.

Soon, neighbors will be able to share the surplus energy from their assets, they’ll be incentivized to share experiences and to end up making the right decisions on their local energy community together. Between neighbors, friends and family, energy will become a topic of discussion and the benefits of one, will be shared and become the benefits of the others. That’s what local energy communities are all about. It’s about the power of WE.

In 2021 we will be focusing on use cases for multi-family homes and their next-door neighbors, enabling the empowerment of individuals and finding ways to encourage them to contribute to a faster energy transition. With our contribution to the industry and the evolution of the markets, hopefully soon, I’ll finally be also one of the happy energy customers, feeling that I was able to do my part in contributing towards the energy transition.

I’m convinced that we’re at the verge of a new phase of our energy industry transition and my team and I want to put E.ON at the forefront of it.

A big wave of change is coming and soon we will see green energy meeting people´s power.

About Luis Arturo Hernández Salmerón
About Luis Arturo Hernández Salmerón
Luis Hernandez is a specialist in the area of citizen energy communities and energy network optimization of thermal and electricity networks. He started his career at E.ON in 2013 and is currently heading the innovation team for “Energy Communities and Networks”. Based on his wide knowledge range in business, regulations and technical topics in the energy industry, Luis is driving forward-thinking projects across Europe. Luis writes about energy market changes at citizen level and faster and more affordable energy transition in Europe.
The contributions reflect the opinions of the authors and not necessarily those of E.ON. E.ON cannot be held liable for the use of the information contained in the contributions. In particular, E.ON accepts no responsibility for the accuracy or completeness of the information supplied. Further, E.ON accepts no responsibility that contributions are up-to-date.

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