Exploring the Current State of Energy Communities: Starting, Challenges, and Success Stories in Europe


Project AURORA is developing Renewable Energy Communities (REC) in 5 locations across Europe, gathering efforts from the local communities to drive the energy transition and reduce the carbon footprint of  individuals in the community. The REC that AURORA is setting up, are creating great social and environmental impact. Communities are empowered to change their behaviour, increase their knowledge and understanding of the use of energy to support their lifestyles, and through the AURORA ENERGY Tracker app to monitor and drive down their individual carbon footprints. AURORA and REC allow the citizens to become agents of change, and give the next generation the tools to become carbon neutral.

The following sections details some of the successes and challenges faced in setting up energy communities.

A Renewable Energy Community (REC) exists when people in a community work together to solve their community energy-related issues. This concept can involve campaigns for energy savings, collective investments in solar installations or wind turbines, or even the ownership of an energy supply company or a distribution network. REC unite people to act democratically on climate issues, involving themselves in the understanding, generation, ownership, use, sharing, and saving of energy.[1]

To be a REC, the entity must simultaneously meet the following criteria:[2]

  • Members or participants must be located near the REC’s renewable energy projects or be involved in activities related to these projects, which include self-consumption units;
  • The renewable energy installations must be owned and developed by the REC itself or by third parties, provided that these projects benefit and serve the REC;
  • The primary goal of the REC must be the promotion of environmental, economic, and social benefits for its members or for the communities where it operates, as opposed to financial profits.

How to Launch a Renewable Energy Community

Initially, any project aimed at the construction and development of a REC should clearly outline its ideals and objectives. To take this first step, the following questions should be considered:[1], [3]

  • Who are we?
  • What is our common goal?
  • How can we form a group of interested individuals?
  • What resources do we have within our group, our community, including technical knowledge, financial support, social capital, and political backing?
  • What do we lack, and what challenges might we face in the future?

Once the initial project is well-defined, several steps must be taken to establish a REC:

1. Engage with Local Stakeholders:

  • Initiate communication with other local stakeholders to gather support for the idea and the goals of the renewable energy community. Show openness to incorporate perspectives and suggestions from potential new collaborators.

2. Assess Current Energy Supply:

  • Establish a comprehensive baseline to ensure the current energy supply is secure. This involves examining energy consumption for heating and electricity over a full year, as well as during specific weeks and days. Additionally, map the structure of existing energy systems, identify connection points, and assess energy transport capacity. This analysis should also consider heating systems and building characteristics.

3. Develop Energy Network Scenarios for the community:

  • Create various scenarios to expand the community energy network, considering which partners should be involved and what levels and types of consumption will be included. For example, analyse at least two configurations: one covering only residential buildings, and another including a mix of local institutions, commercial establishments, and possibly small businesses.

4. Technical Structure Analysis:

  • Develop a model for the technical structure of the energy community based on sustainable energy technologies. Describe suitable arrangements of renewable energy elements that align with the identified scenarios, considering specific building and land use needs.

5. Identify Funding Sources:

  • Research the existence of potential funding sources to cover the necessary investments for creating the REC. As an alternative, the community can crowdfund the necessary funds from among the community.

6. Organisational Structure Design:

  • Design the organisational framework of the REC, exploring various legal options and detailing the benefits and challenges of each. This process may lead to the creation of a set of bylaws to regulate the operation of the REC and formalising the REC as a business entity.

7. Optimal Energy Generation and Storage:

  • Determine the ideal mix of renewable energy generation and the need for storage technologies in the analysed scenarios through a technical and financial analysis of investment and operational costs. This aims to clarify the benefits provided by the energy community, both in terms of increased comfort and financial savings. Gather information on tariffs and rates and consider implementing the project as a pilot to maintain certain structural conditions.

8. Comprehensive Timeline and Funding Plan:

  • Develop a detailed timeline and financing plan to implement various components of the REC’s organisational and technical structure. This may involve deciding between previously identified scenarios and adjusting technical goals based on available funding opportunities.

9. Project Execution:

  • Implement the project with the involvement of contractors and technical consultants, possibly in phases if necessary. Throughout the process, maintain a core group of drivers who communicate with both partners and the end beneficiaries of the energy community. As the implementation progresses, this group should evolve into a more formalised coordinating team and eventually into an established corporate entity, while keeping in touch with partners and final users involved.

Main Constraints

The main constraints in the creation of a REC can be divided into five main categories: [4]

  • Environmental Aspects;
  • Economic Aspects;
  • Social Aspects;
  • Legal and Regulatory Structures;and
  • Network and Organisational

Challenges related to environmental aspects stem from concerns regarding potential negative impacts on nature resulting from REC development, including concerns about nature preservation.[4]

The scarcity of financial resources represents a challenge to participate in REC initiatives. Availability of funding, grants, and subsidies plays a crucial role but can also act as a barrier to starting such initiatives, depending on their availability.[4]

Social acceptance, trust, and awareness present challenges as well. Barriers include distrust in collective forms of ownership due to local histories and socialist legacies, as well as a lack of understanding about the concept of community energy. Factors such as age, gender, occupation, political opinion, and geographical context also affect social acceptance.[4]

Regarding legal structures, barriers may arise from inadequate regulations that hinder REC initiatives. Government reluctance to make significant changes in centralised energy systems can result in regulations that impede the establishment of decentralised energy systems by new actors.[4]

Barriers stemming from network and organisational aspects originate from lack of knowledge, information, and awareness. For example, there may be a lack of knowledge of good examples to learn from in creating REC projects.[4]

Great Success Stories in Europe

In Europe, there are several successful examples of renewable energy communities. These initiatives vary in their structure and impact, depending on whether they are promoted by large companies or small citizen cooperatives.

Projects led by large corporations typically have greater financial stability and access to advanced technologies. These projects can implement large-scale systems, such as solar and wind farms, which can generate substantial amounts of energy. Additionally, they have the capability to effectively overcome regulatory and logistical obstacles due to their experience and market influence.

On the other hand, small citizen cooperatives have proven to be equally effective despite operating on a smaller scale. This collaboration promotes a participatory and democratic governance structure, where local members have an active voice in decision-making and in the economic benefits of the project.

The main difference between these two models lies in their magnitude and economic and social impact. While large companies can provide rapid and far-reaching solutions, small groups of citizens strengthen local social order, encourage inclusion, and increase environmental awareness within the community. Additionally, the economic benefits for the REC members are greater when REC are created by the citizens themselves, whilst when promoted by corporations the REC members share the economic benefits with the promoter.


Repowering London, founded in 2013 by Afsheen Rashid and Agamemnon Otero, is a non-profit organisation that creates Community Energy projects in social housing neighbourhoods in London to empower residents. With a democratic “one member, one vote” model, anyone can become a member for £1 per month, participating in decisions and the use of the community fund to support local projects. Repowering London instals solar panels on public buildings, ensuring that all residents can contribute without significant financial investments. The organisation also promotes community events and training programs for young people, making investment accessible with a minimum cost of £50 for residents, social support beneficiaries, and young people under 25. Repowering London’s projects bring significant benefits: making renewable energy accessible, funding initiatives like meal distribution for children, and supporting people in energy poverty through improvements in energy efficiency, demonstrating how a community can be strengthened and empowered through renewable energy and active participation.[5]

Figure 1. Bannister House, Hackney’s first community solar installation [6]


The Edinburgh Community Solar Cooperative (ECSC) was created to enable Edinburgh residents to promote and develop the production of renewable and low-carbon energy in the city. After considering various legal options, the founders decided to form a Community Benefit Society, focusing on implementing a large-scale solar energy project. In 2015, the cooperative launched a share offer to finance the installation of solar panels on several buildings in the Edinburgh council area, allowing citizens to purchase share capital for £250, raising a total of £1.4 million. At the time, Edinburgh had fewer solar panels than other UK cities, mainly because many residents lived in apartments without access to rooftops. Through the collective ownership of solar panels on community buildings, ECSC provided residents with a way to combat climate change, making Edinburgh cleaner and greener, while also offering financial benefits to the community. Currently, the cooperative continues to generate solar energy from 24 buildings, distributing profits to its members and the Community Benefit Fund, which started in 2018. ECSC is planning the second phase of the project, with more solar panel installations and energy efficiency technologies, working closely with the local council, which has been encouraging the development of Community Energy projects since 2012.[5]

Figure 2. Roof of Edinburgh City Council's offices [7]


Founded in Portugal in 2013, Coopérnico is a renewable energy cooperative that focuses on solar energy. Initially starting with 16 citizens investing in a small solar plant, it has now grown to over 2,200 members, investing in 32 photovoltaic systems. Coopérnico leases roofs from social institutions to implement photovoltaic projects, providing them with extra income. They also sell electricity directly to members at fair prices. Coopérnico’s mission includes producing 100% renewable energy, creating social value, supporting the local economy, and operating with integrity and transparency.[5]

Figure 3. Photovoltaic installation made by Coopérnico [8]


Som Energia, whose name in Catalan means “we are energy”, is the first energy cooperative established in Spain. Founded in 2010 by 150 citizens inspired by similar initiatives in Belgium and France, the organisation offered a collaborative solution to explore renewable energy sources locally, initially purchasing green energy from existing sources to provide affordable electricity to members. Over time, Som Energia built its own photovoltaic facilities and expanded its renewable production, aiming to meet 100% of members’ consumption needs. In 2017, it had 47,000 members, increasing to around 68,000 currently, with over 6,000 members investing €15,000,000 in the project. Facing challenges such as the cessation of government support, the cooperative developed the innovative Generation kWh financing system for new projects at market prices. Som Energia customers are not just consumers, but co-owners involved in decision-making and can invest directly in renewable energies. Combining a cooperative model, people’s commitment, and renewable energy production, Som Energia offers an opportunity for every individual in Spain to actively participate in the energy transition and invest in a sustainable economy. This is an increasingly demanded topic by the population.[5]

Figure 4. Photovoltaic installation financed by Generation kWh (investment model of Som Energia), which provides electricity to 690 families [9]




[3] “COMUNIDADES DE ENERGIA UM GUIA PRÁTICO.” [Online]. Available: www.rescoop.eu


[5] “COMUNIDADES DE ENERGIA UM GUIA PRÁTICO.” [Online]. Available: www.rescoop.eu

[6] “Repowering London – Ashden.” Accessed: May 21, 2024. [Online]. Available: https://ashden.org/awards/winners/repowering-london/

[7] “Grants available from Solar Co-op for Edinburgh community organisations | The Edinburgh Reporter.” Accessed: May 21, 2024. [Online]. Available: https://theedinburghreporter.co.uk/2023/05/grants-available-from-solar-co-op-for-edinburgh-community-organisations/

[8] “Em 2022 a Coopérnico chegou a mais de 2 mil famílias com energia 100% verde – O Instalador – Informação profissional do setor das instalações em Portugal.” Accessed: May 21, 2024. [Online]. Available: https://www.oinstalador.com/Artigos/462402-Em-2022-a-Coopernico-chegou-a-mais-de-2-mil-familias-com-energia-100-por-ciento-verde.html

[9] “Som Energía, la primera cooperativa energética de España – Comunidades energéticas.” Accessed: May 21, 2024. [Online]. Available: https://www.tierra.org/comunidades-energeticas/som-energia-la-primera-cooperativa-energetica-de-espana/

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