How to reap the benefits of local renewable energy systems?

What should change in the revised Renewable Energy Directive


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Publication date

January 24, 2022

As a climate professional, I often keep work-related topics outside of the private sphere and don’t discuss it so much with friends and family. But over the past few months in Brussels, debates have been raging on energy prices as well as on the (still) potential phase-out of nuclear facilities.

As I am often labelled as the “green girl” in social gatherings, people now come to me with the inevitable question: “ok but what do we do now if we get rid of all nuclear energy? You obviously don’t think gas is better. What is your solution?”.

I am struck by how much we have been used to think in terms of simplistic, silver-bullet solutions. This idea that we are supposed to just replace one energy source by another, through one simple switch. It is the same narrow-minded reasoning which concludes that the intermittency of renewable energy can only be solved by back-up fossil energy.

In the face of EU-wide pushes for centralised solutions (like small-scale nuclear in France or hydrogen elsewhere in Europe), it is very important to show that answers are much more complex and context-based than what lobbies would like us to think. Instead of focusing on futuristic, unproven technology, we should start by harnessing what is already available locally, understanding that solutions will differ from one city to another, even from one neighborhood to another. In a nutshell, let’s reap all the “locally-hanging” fruits first.

This is what Energy Cities and REScoop.eu are proposing to do in our joint position paper on introducing mandatory local RES mapping and planning in the revised renewable energy directive.

At present, a growing number of local authorities are developing sophisticated tools to chart their local potential for RES but often on a voluntary basis and only for specific energy uses or sources like heat maps or solar atlases.

As for planning, in some EU countries, cities of a certain sizes have the obligation to adopt energy and climate plans, but it is often more a decarbonisation tool than a mean to identify or create new energy supply and value chains. What we propose to amend in the revised directive is to make this renewable energy mapping and planning a mandatory requirement for some local and regional authorities and to associate it with adequate support from Member States.

We already see a trend in some of the proposed Fit for 55 legislations to make local planning mandatory in some areas. In article 23 of the Energy Efficiency Directive for example there is a new provision requiring cities over 50, 000 inhabitants to conduct heat planning and Member States to support them in this process “to the utmost extent possible”. As part of the newly proposed mobility package the Commission also wants to make it mandatory for large and medium-size cities to adopt sustainable urban mobility plans.

If it is to be “fit for 55%”, but also fit for social development and inclusion, the renewable energy directive must embrace that trend as well and associate the obligation with extensive national support.