Building a rural energy community
EnGreen is an Italian consultancy founded in 2019, which focuses on rural electrification, specifically using mini-grids to supply "off-grid" areas. They promote local development using energy as a driver, supporting customers with research and development, facilitated finance, engineering, renewable energy, energy efficiency and plant engineering.
Mr Carlo Tacconelli, CEO of EnGreen, along with two other founding members, started a rural energy community (REC) in December 2021, in a small village in the Teramo Province, Italy. They took advantage of post-Covid funding, made available by the Italian government for energy efficiency improvements, to install solar plants in the village. They have also installed electric vehicle (EV) charging stations, lithium storage, and residential heat pumps and are looking to continue installing solar plants on roofs and implementing a biomass heating system as well.
They have primarily engaged with residents by going door to door and holding monthly meetings in the middle of the village. They have found that the main driver for interest in the project is the prospect of saving money on energy bills. The private owners of solar plants can consume the energy they produce, and the surplus can be fed into the local grid to serve the local community. There are now twelve members of the Teramo REC, five that actively produce electricity and seven consumers. They are also seeing more interest from the local authority, who are now actively seeking involvement, compared with the initial phase of the project. They are looking to take more ownership and try to replicate the project in other neighbourhoods.
Benefits of a rural energy community
Mr Tacconelli hopes that the long-term benefits of the project will include:
- A reduction of the local energy price, incentivising people to move from urban areas to rural areas.
- A percentage of the profits being used for investments in the local community, for example: purchasing a school bus, renovating the local square, public lighting, supporting families in the village, or a processing machine for maize and olive oil.
- An uptake in community members using the renewable electricity produced in their homes and driving electric cars.
- Other small villages and towns in the local areas using their project as a pilot to start other renewable energy projects.
Barriers to starting a rural energy community
The main barrier that the EnGreen REC faced is the lack of technical knowledge in the rural community. Support was required, particularly during the feasibility stage of the project where there was a requirement for a high level of expertise in engineering, load forecasting and demand prediction.
They have found that transparency has been key to maintaining commitment from members and they are hoping to provide each member with an app to monitor the activities of the energy community, including how much energy the solar panels are producing, how much the community is consuming and how much money they're generating. This would help to build confidence in the members, even if they don’t have specific technical knowledge.
Advice for new or prospective rural energy communities
He advises other new RECs to work on increasing community interaction, as building strong relationships is fundamental for a project to function. He recommends communicating, not only about potential savings and revenue, but also about how the revenue can be invested in the local community.