W4RES workshop enabled mutual learning and exchange on good practices in RHC

PEDAL Consulting, in collaboration with the Friends of the Earth-CEPA, Bankwatch Network and its RegENERate project, organised another workshop from the W4RES initiative series. This time experts met in Bratislava, on 16 and 17 January 2023 and focused on fostering cross-regional mutual learning; facilitation of international cooperation as well as the exchange of good practices between countries in the decarbonisation of the heating industry. They will serve as a starting point for scaling-up the debate at national and EU levels to deliver policy guidelines and recommendations.

The event attracted more than 30 participants of different nationalities (Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Macedonia, Norway, Poland, Serbia, Slovakia, Ukraine), all of them interested in various approaches to planning of the decarbonisation of the heating industry and emergence of energy communities.

District heating decarbonisation in Czechia

The event was kick-started by the PEDAL Consulting’s presentation of the W4RES project and its activities, as well as the main gender issues with the female representation in energy/renewable heating and cooling sector.

Afterwards, the whole first day was dedicated to the topic of decarbonisation of the heating industry. Michaela Valentová, a researcher from the Czech Technical University, spoke about the district heating decarbonisation in Czechia. She is the author of a study analysing different technologies.

Moreover, she also conducted a very thorough literature research and viability assessment from different perspectives. These led her to the conclusion that most technologies could be viable in decarbonisation of heating in the Czech Republic. The only ones out of question are hydrogen and heat storage. Also, local energy plans are essential according to her. But the study showed that there is only limited number of them and the majority are fairly old or “morally outdated”.

It is therefore essential to focus more on working with the cities. Starting pilot projects could help with their local energy planning.  At the end, Ms Valentová emphasised that good data is the key, especially good data on waste heat, local sources, other sources.

Motivation of municipalities in the decarbonisation

Participants were highly interested in how to motivate municipalities to be interested in the decarbonisation of heating. Some regions use different instruments, e. g. financial stimulus for municipalities via competence centres – such as Baden Württemberg having the Carbon Neutral Scenarios 2040.

Challenges to overcome in the decarbonisation of heat supply in buildings

Ms Sara Herreras Martinez from the Utrecht University presented a case study from Netherlands on the decarbonisation of heat supply in buildings. There is a great potential to decarbonize heat in buildings. However, several challenges on technical side have to be overcome. Primarily, from the side of institutions and organisations, e. g.:

  • the lack of institutional instruments (regulatory, financial);
  • local authorities are still in the learning phase and lack capacity;
  • the citizen’s participation has to be strengthened.  

Above-mentioned obstacle are intense and complex processes. They should align with agendas and interests of municipal partners.  

Furthermore, the lack of capacity and know-how in municipalities is translated into the strong dependency on external expertise. This issue will become even more prominent when the realization starts.

It is recommended for the national governments to give municipalities the right basis to be able to fulfil their role. That means clear and timely establishment of adequate and consistent regulations, together with clear potential financial allocation mechanisms.

There should be also intra-governmental efforts present to increase municipal capacity and know-how. Finally, local governments need to design flexible strategies while balancing different aspects.

Potential of geothermal energy

The first day of the workshop was concluded with more practical part focusing on the use of geothermal energy. Mr Oto Halás from Slovgeoterm presented plans on how to use geothermal energy in heat supply systems, highlighting its pros and cons, together with specificities of Slovakia. Moreover, he also explained the planning of a new project with all its processes.

To better visualise the use of geothermal energy, participants were transferred to the site visit of Galantaterm. Being a very special project in Slovakia, it belongs to one of the first companies founded for the purpose of using geothermal energy, primarily for heating apartments and producing domestic hot water. Technical and business aspects of the geothermal energy drew the attention of most participants, e.g.:

  • the possibility to increase the capacity;
  • challenges of different prices for energy within the same city;
  • the process of getting licensing and all the approvals before the actual implementation.

Ms Ildiko Dobis, the former manager at the Municipal enterprise of housing management from Veľký Meder, presented interesting stories of how realistically the whole process was going in the town nearby. She is the woman behind the approval and successful implementation of the similar project in Veľký Meder.

Sharing the electricity within the energy community in Slovakia not clear

During the second day, the event was dedicated to the topic of energy communities. It started with a more theoretical part with presentations on practical pros and cons of the Slovak law on energy communities. Ms Anna Michalčáková from Frank Bold organisation spoke about the outcomes of their analysis. “Sharing” was presented as the main issue, since the law is not clear here and it gives no obligation for the distribution system operator to cooperate with the energy communities in order to facilitate electricity transfers through the public distribution system.

Therefore, it must be clarified in the law:

  • how electricity can be shared between energy community members,
  • how exactly it will be reflected in the electricity bill,
  • what the procedures for registering the points of consumption are involved in sharing.

Good examples can be seen in Austrian law or in Ireland.

Specific barriers for the Renewable energy communities (REC) implementation

Mr Stanislav Laktiš from the Slovak Innovation and Energy Agency followed up with his presentation on “Removing barriers for energy communities”. They identified 23 barriers to REC implementation and divided them into four categories: legislative, behavioural/organisational, economic and technological.

The most actionable recommendations would be:

  • prompt interventions of governments and legislative authorities to remove grid connection barriers,
  • an appropriate set up for strengthening national frameworks,
  • simplification and streamlining of procedures and requirements where possible,
  • adequate finance and technical information support,
  • making sure that vulnerable and energy poor citizens can participate in REC,
  • removal/minimization of identified barriers.

For each specific barrier, naturally there were also solutions proposed.

Inclusion of vulnerable citizens in REC and training of women

Participants were also interested in any specific strategy in Slovakia on how to include vulnerable and energy poor citizens in REC, but also in any specific strategies on training workers with technical expertise for energy communities, especially women (mainly because they are underrepresented, and a specific strategy would be helpful to better suit their needs and special circumstances).

Such strategies do not exist in Slovakia yet. However, it was concluded that this finding is definitely an important point and a good idea to work on.

Different approaches to energy communities from abroad

Ms Anna Michalčáková from the Czech Community Energy Union brought forward the question of energy communities. Trying to help with the building of clean and safe future for the Czech energy sector, the Union wants legislation to kick-start the development of local clean energy sources. They promote a stable and comprehensible subsidy environment, create and share know-how for project implementation. They also plan to incorporate community energy into strategic documents.

Elektropionir energy cooperative was represented by Ms Jelena Nikolc, who especially involved in the gender working group. She explained to participants how it all started - how they have women in all the high-level positions (President of the Assembly, Director, PR), but also how they secure their education and training activities, e..g.:

  • during a course on “Solar technique to the people”, which takes place twice a year,
  • while providing more technical workshops,
  • crowdfunding a campaign helping communities,
  • giving presentations in primary and secondary schools about renewable energy not only to children, but also parents.

The last presentation by Anelia Stefanova, Energy Transformation Area Leader at Bankwatch Network, was dedicated to support measures for community energy in the Italian national plan. It included:

  • raising awareness,
  • facilitation of events for REC creation,
  • financial support for feasibility studies,
  • legal costs for creation of REC,
  • specific financial support for REC new installations.

The main takeaway from the workshop is the fact that although approaches in all countries can differ, there are many points to learn from each other. All in all, the main highlights of the discussions were:

  • how prospective members can find out about energy communities,
  • what are the best ways to communicate with citizens to make them trust renewables,
  • exchange of experience with energy regulatory offices between participants.

Lastly, the event proved that such types of exchanges are very relevant and important for further steps, especially for the regulatory and policy makers to discuss the above-mentioned issues also with non-governmental organisations and the private sector.

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