The Netherlands: In seven years time, more than a million Dutch households will be self-sufficient.
Every Dutch municipality has an active energy co-operative since this year. The number of citizens who generate and distribute sustainable energy together is growing exponentially. According to the Local Energy Monitor (LEM), last year the number of energy co-operatives increased by 60 and now counts a total of 392. And according to projections of the Dutch government, the number of members of renewable energy co-operatives will rise to 1 million over seven years. The generation of sustainable energy (solar and wind) will grow drastically from 300 million kWh to 6 billion kWh in that same period.
Europe: The number of European energy co-operatives is experiencing an unprecedented growth
According to Rescoop, an umbrella organization of European energy co-operatives, the energy markets are transforming faster than anyone ever imagined, and that while the sector was still in its infancy a few years ago. The price of renewable energy has continued to decline, smart technologies allow us to better manage supply and demand, while energy storage is much cheaper. Rescoop now represents more than 1500 energy co-operatives in Europe, with around one million members.
World: The number of European energy co-operatives is experiencing an unprecedented growth
Almost 60 percent of the approximately 1.1 billion Africans have no access to electricity while the need for it is increasing rapidly. The International Energy Agency predicts that off-grid development in Africa will increase dramatically in the coming decades. It is expected that, by 2040, 315 million people in rural areas will have access to electricity through an energy co-operative. In the next four years, the number of off-grid projects by energy co-operatives in Africa will triple.
The unstoppable rise of the new energy-savvy citizen
This is how they describe it: “A pool filled with possibilities, that is BlueCity. A playground for circular enterprises, where we use brains, balls, and fun to steer towards an economy in which waste doesn’t exist. In BlueCity, we serve a dose of radical disruption with your coffee and together we realize a world in which waste is valuable.”
Even though the Dutch Climate Agreement is ambitious, it won’t immediately push the energy transition into a higher gear. There is a stalemate, also called the circle of blame. The government points to the industry, the industry wants the government to pay the bill. The government is expecting citizens to start initiatives, but they are looking toward industry. The industry, in turn, thinks that the consumer should speak out for more sustainable energy.
An energy co-operative consists of a group of citizens who take matters into their own hands by jointly purchasing, generating and reselling renewable energy. Profit is not a goal in itself, quality of life is. Citizens are taking control of their own green energy and are kicking the old polluting energy world out of the game.
Energy co-operatives are organised from the bottom up, and the rules are determined by the people who participate in it. It is not only more practical to arrange the energy supply among participants, but also more environmentally friendly and less expensive. After a few years it’s even free. With the emergence of decentralised renewable energy households, the old energy multinationals are losing more and more ground. Unless they change.
The number of financially sound energy co-operatives is rising exponentially. That is remarkable because the sector was still in its infancy just a few short years ago. Thanks to an increasingly broad social support, pooling of efforts and a more professional approach, energy co-operatives are succeeding more and more often in turning their wind turbines or solar roofs profitable, and in less time to boot. 60% of the co-operatives are engaged in the re-selling of green energy.
‘With such a tidal wave of energy co-operatives, the energy transition is finally kicked into a higher gear,’ says Dirk Vansintjan, spokesman of Rescoop, an umbrella organization of European energy co-operatives.
‘The energy markets are transforming faster than anyone ever imagined. The price of renewable energy has continued to decline, smart technologies ensure that we can better manage supply and demand, while energy storage is much cheaper.
Greening, decentralisation and self-determination are the future. In many countries, citizens are realising that being responsible for your own energy production as a community has enormous advantages. The big difference with traditional companies is that a co-operative is not profit-driven. Of course, the energy co-operatives are making a profit, but it doesn’t disappear to some head office in another country.’
Rescoop represents 1500 European energy co-operatives, with a combined member base of around 1 million people.
‘Energy co-operatives are the beating heart of the energy transition,’ says Jeroen Vanson, manager customer projects for Greenchoice, ‘because they have been organised from the bottom up. The end consumer believes that the energy supply market should be overhauled, and takes action himself. Energy co-operatives create support for the energy transition and that is desperately needed.’
‘A lot of people are averse to a solar park or windmill in their backyard,’ he continues, ‘but energy co-operatives have a strong social cohesion and therefore they know how to involve local people in a sustainable energy project. Understanding and enthusiasm replace resistance.’
‘Until recently, energy was in the hands of large international energy giants. Consumers felt like they were just a number and they are rebelling against that. The rise of energy co-operatives ensures that consumers feel appreciated and get a grip on their own energy. They start to feel that the energy world belongs to them again. After all, the proceeds from an energy co-operative flow back to the local economy. The consumer is in charge of the energy bill. And that bill is gradually getting lower. You don’t have to sell that, it spreads like wild fire.’
In 2018, Greenchoice represents 60 out of the 392 Dutch energy co-operatives
‘Ameland is the perfect testing ground for the rest of the Netherlands,’ says Johan Kiewiet of the Amelander Energy Co-operative (AEC). ‘By testing new techniques and smart systems in a set, limited location and with an actively participating population, the island places itself firmly at the front line of the energy transition.’
When it comes to its own energy needs, Ameland aspires to be fully self-supporting within a few years by using sustainable electricity and green gas. According to Kiewiet, the cooperation model of the energy co-operative fits the people from Ameland to a T. ‘Amelanders are a proud and independent people who want to do everything themselves, without being influenced by the people on the mainland.’
The rapid rise of energy co-operatives are brightening the day for Dutch Sustainability and Transition professor Jan Rotmans. ‘Energy co-operatives are propelling the energy transition forward. That is a sight to behold, because the energy multinationals are responding much too slow and are far too rigid. They are still all about power and the interests of the established order, while the emerging new order leaves them in the dust. Energy co-operatives are hijacking capital away from the multinationals.’
Rotmans is still not happy about the sustainability improvement rate in the Netherlands, compared to other countries. ‘We can achieve the Climate Agreement if we want, but not at the current pace. Out of all 28 European countries, we generate the least sustainable energy, while we are in the top 5 of energy consumption per head of the population. We only generate 6% sustainable energy, while Scandinavia is already at 50 percent!’
Denmark is leading the pack with around 5500 energy co-operatives to around 6 million inhabitants. The Danes mainly generate energy with wind farms. Scotland also scores relatively high, with more than 500 communal energy projects at less than 6 million inhabitants. Germany has only 880 co-operatives out of a total population of over 80 million inhabitants, but these have significant networks.
‘There is no optimal geographical scale for climate action,’ continues Rotmans. ‘But in practice, climate actions have proven to be more workable at the scale of towns, cities and regions, they can often accelerate faster than countries.’
‘If you look at Africa, the continent that has the most solar power throughout the year, it is shocking to see how little solar energy is generated. The idea of covering part of the Sahara with solar mirrors netted all kinds of geopolitical problems due to the politically unstable countries in North Africa. There as well, the energy transition will by and large have to come from energy co-operatives.’
That stalemate is now broken by the rapid rise of the energy co-operative.
‘Let’s change the dark continent into a green continent!’
Many people in the Netherlands are living below the poverty line or with a huge burden of debt. Through this project, people can pay off their debt through social coins, which they earn by doing community service. For more see the Social Coins website. www.socialcoin.nl
Almost 60 percent of the approximately 1.1 billion Africans have no access to electricity while the need for it is increasing rapidly. By the year 2040, the African energy demand will increase by approximately 80 percent. This demand must be covered by means such as solar, wind and biomass, because the energy infrastructure in rural areas is almost non-existent.
The International Energy Agency predicts that off-grid development there will increase dramatically in the coming decades. By 2040, 315 million people in rural areas are expected to have access to electricity; approximately 100 million of these will do this through off-grid systems. In the next four years, the number of off-grid energy projects by energy co-operatives south of the Sahara will triple.
It is remarkable that German energy co-operatives are lending a hand to their African counterparts. For instance, Germany recently started a Marshall plan for Africa. The German Minister for Development, Gerd Müller, emphasized that ‘the benefits of the approximately 850 energy co-operatives that have been founded in Germany in the past ten years – namely, the wide participation in the energy transition, promotion of the regional economy and strengthening of renewable energy sources – should also be brought to Africa.’
With the creation of the “Green Community Energy for Africa”, German energy co-operatives will provide solutions for green energy facilities in African rural areas. ‘This could make Africa the first continent fully powered by renewable energy sources,’ says Müller.
Irene Muloni, Minister for Energy and Raw Materials of the East African Republic of Uganda, welcomes the exchange with open arms: ‘Let’s change the dark continent into a green continent!’