On 7 and 8 November 2022, Steinbeis Europa Zentrum organized a mutual learning workshop in the framework of W4RES engagement to foster international cooperation and the exchange of good practices.
The aim of the workshop was to foster cross-regional mutual learning opportunities, dialogue, and knowledge exchange among the regions participating in the W4RES project and beyond, before scaling-up the debate to national and EU levels to deliver policy guidelines and recommendations. To this end, 13 participants from Germany, Belgium, Bulgaria, Greece, and Slovakia met on 7 and 8 November 2022 in Stuttgart, Germany, to discuss Gender Aspects of Energy Communities.
To facilitate the discussions, the workshop started with a site visit at Neue Weststadt Klimaquartier and Green Hydrogen Esslingen GmbH. At this site, an almost climate-neutral urban quarter is being developed and created with apartments, offices, commercial space, and a university building. Using Power-to-Gas-to-Power (P2G2P) as a key technology, surplus green energy is converted into green hydrogen locally directly in the quarter. Participants were very interested in the technological and urban development aspects of this project which was presented by representatives on-site.
On the second day, the workshop started with four inputs on Energy Communities and their gender aspects. These inputs included insights from the EU-funded projects DECIDE and RENergetic, and presentations of two energy communities in Greece Attica Energy Community and WEnCoop (both supported through the W4RES first open call), participants discussed the benefits of gender-just Energy Communities, but also the main barriers. In those discussions, the diverse backgrounds of the participants helped to bring in new perspectives, while the representation of different countries helped to understand the local and cultural barriers to the inclusion of women in the renewable cooling and heating sector.
Participants agreed that there are many ways of realizing an energy community, from the transfer of access energy from private solar panels to direct neighbors to bigger communities who act as prosumers to nation-wide associations united in their (financial) investment in renewable energies. All these different forms of energy communities have their advantages and disadvantages, but all are contributing to the benefit of society and the environment.
It became clear in the discussions, that to support the concept of energy communities, most needed at the moment are beneficial legal frameworks and funding schemes to facilitate the formation of energy communities. Funds are especially needed to be able to organize events and meetings to engage potential members.
Regarding gender aspects in energy communities (and in general), participants reported cultural differences between different countries. Especially in formerly socialist countries, there is a very long tradition of women working instead of staying home with the family, which positively influences the reality of women in these countries today. Still, structural inequalities stay a big problem for the majority of women (e.g., pay gap, care gap, stereotypes). Energy communities can contribute to a more gender-just energy transformation, especially with gender-just communication, e.g., by using non-stereotypical, gender-inclusive language and images in their outreach, or by reflecting and accepting different ways, forms, and levels of communication by different people to find a common ground of how to communicate.
In the future, we want to keep collecting specific knowledge and experiences of regions and communities across Europe. A promising idea would be to create a network of “ambassadors” in different regions, accompanied by (gender-just) communication campaigns raising awareness about energy communities, informing citizens and potential stakeholders about their benefits, where they can already find energy communities in their vicinity, how to become a member, how to start an own energy community and who are contact persons for all further questions.