On 25 September 2023, the AURORA team in Aarhus officially registered the solar cooperative with the Danish Business Authority. The cooperative is named Universitetets Energifællesskab (UEF).
UEF is founded by 6 citizens in Aarhus, while the AURORA team in Aarhus carried out the initial work exploring viable business models. “Initially, we thought establishing a solar cooperative would be easy, given Denmark’s history of energy cooperatives. As we navigated through the different legal frameworks, it turned out there were more challenges than we expected to set up a solar cooperative engaging a university in Denmark. The journey took us more than 1 year,” says Marta Victoria, who leads the AURORA project in Aarhus and one of the founders of UEF.
One challenge is that most universities in Denmark do not own their buildings, which means more parties need to be involved in the project. While the university needs to agree to use the electricity produced by the photovoltaic system, the building owner needs to get on board so that the PV system can be installed on top of the buildings. “We had a few long discussions with the building owner to convince them, ” explains Zhe Zhang, coordinator of the AURORA demonstration in Aarhus and one of the founders of UEF. “In our case, the building owner was planning to install solar panels on their buildings, so we had to present our proposal for a cooperative, explain the benefits of getting citizens involved, and make calculations to show that the risks are low for the owner. Luckily, we reached an agreement.”
The second challenge faced by the team is that the university is not allowed to become a member of the solar cooperative, according to the university law in Denmark. “We are lucky to have a very experienced legal advisor, who helped us to find a new legal framework, where Aarhus University is considered a prosumer, but via a third party (i.e. UEF). Even though the university does not own the PV system, it could be considered a prosumer, because of the close vicinity of the demand and production,” explains Marta.
Other challenges included long decision-making process in public institutions due to diluted responsibilities, and the current tax system.
When asked about the next steps for UEF, the founders confirmed that currently UEF is working out the practical details of crowdfunding and they expect that citizens can start buying shares soon.
UEF founders (from left to right): Martin Mørk, Ebbe Gøtske, Andreas Jacobsen, Marta Victoria, Iben Underbjerg, Zhe Zhang