Installation of solar modules: Citizen participation is important for a successful energy transition.
Installation of solar modules: Citizen participation is important for a successful energy transition. Shutterstock/NavinTar

Headline: Energy Communities: Structural Policy & Participation (BE:ST)


The project "Energy Communities: Structural Policy & Participation" (BE:ST) examines a central social innovation of the energy transition: community energy projects and mechanisms to share their financial benefits. BE:ST investigates whether, to what extent, and under what circumstances community energy could be harnessed to support structural change in former lignite mining districts and boost public acceptance of the energy transition.

Energy communities are more important than ever

Community-led renewable energy projects are an important driver of the energy transition in Germany. Aided by favourable conditions, communities across the country have come together over the last decades to install solar power systems, develop renewables-based district heating networks, and co-finance wind farms. Changes in legislation and energy market trends have slowed the growth of community-led energy projects in recent years. A new federal initiative (the energy package) aims to lend fresh momentum to community energy projects.

Community energy is set to play an important role in achieving the ambitious goals of securing social acceptance and rapidly expanding renewable energy generation in Germany. In particular, it offers opportunities to address opposition to the development of new wind farms, for example, by enabling communities to share in the financial benefits of renewable energy generation. Ensuring that profits from energy generation benefit local communities, as recommended by the German Coal Commission, will play an important role in promoting the energy transition in former coal mining districts.

Identifying potentials and perspectives through empirical analyses

Funded by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action, the project "Energy Communities: Structural Policy & Participation" (BE:ST) is investigating the basic conceptual and procedural prerequisites for an effective and ambitious community-led energy transition in former coal-mining regions. Analyses of the economic, social and political-cultural potentials will be flanked by citizen-science outreach activities that will enable researchers to establish the potential for community-led energy projects within specific regional contexts, identify relevant actors for their development, and address these actors in targeted communications. The research results will include practical recommendations and various tools as well as an open access database with a citizen science interface that will be available to all interested parties following the project's completion. Ideally, the project will activate communities and stakeholders and inspire the development of new community energy projects. BE:ST aims to understand the conditions under which community energy projects operate and to lend impetus to emerging projects.

How will RIFS contribute?

A team of RIFS researchers will identify the factors that influence the founding and development of energy communities in particular in regions experiencing structural change. A key task is to identify, approach and survey stakeholders relevant to future community energy projects in former coal-mining districts. The results of this survey will be used in the development of a questionnaire that will gauge interest in community-led renewable energy projects across the region and in a citizens' assembly to involve and activate communities in the Rhenish mining district.