The infinite energy …of people

Policy op-ed by Claire Roumet


Publication date

March 24, 2021

No, I am not going to write about this fateful anniversary, this cursed year (or not), nothing, not a word about the pandemic. This newsletter is dedicated to community energy in all meanings of the term, the energy that keeps us going, because yes, local collective, municipal or mixed partnership energy projects are booming. It is an energy that has been freed from its legislative shackles: at the European level, we spent several years working to create a robust legal framework for local energy production and to promote local players and this directive, which is already being re-discussed to raise its ambition, has borne fruit. Much remains to be done and for those actively involved in the project, the foundations are not yet there, but the framework is, opening up new horizons.

At Energy Cities, a number of team members are involved in a local project at home. The local project of my super-dense neighbourhood is called Pilone. I like its name and the idea it conveys that the residents are elements of a grid, all connected by the pylon. I also like its ambitious approach to include all residents, especially the most vulnerable. Thanks to the EU directive, collective self-consumption makes it possible to imagine a community power station that will benefit all citizens. I won’t say more about it as it still in its infancy but the potential is there. Figure-wise, Sol(id)ar(ity) mapping is adamant: solar production from roof-fitted solar panels has the potential to meet the needs of all the residents in the neighbourhood and beyond! But above all, Pilone is human energy and therefore literally infinite! 

IRENA, the International Renewable Energy Agency, published its first report on the potential of cities last October. Our partner REN21, a research institute on renewables, has just published its second global report on the subject. Both organisations note a rise in heat and cooling planning ( See also: our open-source HotMap tool). REN21 also identifies cities’ systemic approach to the energy transition – connecting up the various sectors and urban functions – as a strong trend.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) is also riding the wave and has just launched its “Global Commission on People-Centred Energy Transition … nothing less!

It is a great satisfaction for us to see our priorities adopted by global institutions, but a doubt remains as to the practical translation of our vision of a decarbonised, decentralised system: will it involve creating and sharing new local wealth as we suggest?

If human energy is infinite, it also intensifies when pooled for a project which really empowers citizens to decide their own future.

Besides human energy, in which we must urgently invest if we do not want local projects to remain a pipe dream, we must also clearly distinguish the various infinite energy sources: it is a new energy classification category that should be integrated into the directive rather than different shades of green to integrate gas.

The next step will be investing in infinite energy resources: human, solar, wind – all readily available, here and now.