In most energy communities CREATORS encounter the topic of involving the relevant stakeholders, regardless of the energy community’s particular characteristics, choice of technology, location, etc. A precondition for a truly successful, inclusive and sustainable energy community is to identify important participants already in the preparation stage and carefully plan for their involvement.
On the one hand, it is necessary to consider how to involve the members of the energy community, who usually become the “heart and core” of the energy community, regardless of whether they are citizens, small businesses or other organizations.
On the other hand, it is important to invite the supporting stakeholders, depending on the needs of the specific energy community, who are also necessary for the success of the energy community in the first phase, such as local municipalities, DSO, community and energy experts and financial experts, among others. Mapping and involving all important stakeholders at the beginning of project activities is a strong foundation for the energy community to be created and ensures a high-quality and well-functioning energy community project
Motivations to join or support an energy community
It must be considered that different stakeholders may have different motivations for participating in the preparation of the energy community and/or later becoming a member. However, most common ones can be pointed out (regardless of whether it is a citizen or, for example, a small entrepreneur):
- the wish to save on energy costs,
- to consume local (self-produced) energy,
- to participate in the energy market, or
- to contribute to a cleaner and greener future and be a part of shaping a more sustainable world.
In addition, cooperating with others and community spirit are close to many people’s hearts, and not less important for municipalities and companies to make the living environment of the region more attractive or to develop a greener reputation and image.
To achieve the best engagement result, it is extremely important to consider the motivation of each target group of stakeholders.
CREATORS and stakeholder engagement
The CREATORS project has paid great attention to the involvement of stakeholders. As an important activity of pilot projects, several community and other stakeholder engagement seminars have already taken place during the project so far, and they are planned to be organized during future activities as well.
Between October 2021 and June 2022 several engagement workshops were organized at CREATORS Tier 1 pilot locations:
- Port of Barcelona, Spain
- Jesenice, Slovenia
- Temse, Belgium
- Tartu, Estonia
When summarizing the workshops, the organizing partners were asked to describe the role of various stakeholders in contributing to the pilot project and the involvement process even before the event. Although geographically the locations of the pilot projects are quite far from each other, it can be said that the engagement process turned out to be relatively similar. For example, all pilot sites have described that the initial stakeholder engagement started already during the preparation phase of the CREATORS project. All the key stakeholders who are important for the starting phase of the pilot project were in the most cases involved at the beginning of the project or at least the parties were in negotiations by that time.
But since the goals and nature of the pilot projects are different, there were also some differences in the stakeholder involvement process, both in the involvement process and in the composition and number of stakeholders.
For example, the Port of Barcelona pilot does not directly involve ordinary citizens and primary members of the energy community are companies working in the port area and there is no direct contact with citizens at this stage of the pilot. Barcelona workshop was aimed at raise awareness of the CREATORS project and the community energy models among a wide audience of stakeholders, and unlike Temse or Tartu, the focus at this stage of the project was not primarily on the involvement of citizens and SMEs.
Local citizens are also important stakeholders in the Jesenice pilot in the long term, but in the current phase, the municipality of Jesenice was mainly involved as a representative of the locals. However, local residents were present at the Jesenice Strategic Forum and they have reacted very positive on ideas and proposed concepts of the future Jesenice Energy Community.
The pilots also had different approaches when organizing the engagement workshop. Unlike the others, the Jesenice pilot organized several smaller engagement workshops with targeted selected participants, and the last and largest (Jesenice Strategic Forum) was held as a public event and organized in cooperation with the largest Slovenian business daily newspaper called Finance.
Sometimes its hard to estimate the importance of stakeholder during the planning phase. In case of some stakeholders, it was difficult to foresee their strong relevance during the preparation of the project, and their significance for the pilot project has become clear later. For example, both the Tartu and Temse pilots admitted that the real importance of the DSO in the project’s success became clear only during the implementation, and therefore the efforts to involve the DSO increased in a slightly later phase, and both have faced difficulties in involving the DSO. In the case of the Tartu pilot, the DSO representative also took part in the workshop, the Temse pilot had a separate meeting with the DSO at the later stage.
Useful lessons learned during the organization of CREATORS stakeholder engagement workshops
- It is important that key stakeholders meet each other in the workshop! In person. The personal presence of the CREATORS technology partners in Tartu facilitated the solution of current technology issues and the agreement of the next steps. The presence of key partners also added credibility to the pilot project for external stakeholders (especially Estonian DSO).
- It is crucial to find and involve the right person as the stakeholder representative. During the first year in Tartu, we struggled to find a permanent person from the DSO, but in preparation for the workshop, we decided to use personal contacts to inform and invite. As a result, we reached a representative whose participation and message gave hope that the DSO is interested and will be involved in pilot activities in the future.
- For the needed interaction with the local SMEs and citizens during the workshop, it is crucial to hold the presentation in their first language to avoid language barriers. The aim of the CREATORS project is to create local energy communities by getting the local SMEs onboard to collect data for the Tier 3 stage of the project. Therefore, to give the local SMEs the feeling of a ´local community´ setting, the spoken language is a key factor to having full engagement.
- Creation of a modern and sustainable local energy community is a long-term process and it should be supported by local spatial and strategic planning activities. In case of the Municipality of Jesenice, creation of modern Sustainable Energy and Climate Action Plan which will be strategic document for all future projects connected with energy at the municipality level is the first step where CREATORS ideas should be operationalised. In order to strength the team which is currently working on a preparation of the Sustainable Energy and Climate Action Plan representatives of ENOS, SIJ Acroni and JSI (two members of CREATORS project) have been officially appointed to the team.
- On-site implementation of the subsequent step has been identified as a crucial factor for achieving full engagement with local stakeholders and avoiding loss of project interest. The attendance of Cordeels technical experts in the workshop facilitated this procedure. Consequently, the technical visits to the local SMEs have been scheduled for the next two weeks.
CREATORS’ interest in stakeholder engagement extends beyond project activities. In order to share our experience, learn from others and participate in the development of new relevant strategies, representatives of the CREATORS project ( Tartu Regional Agency) also take part in the working group “Strategies for Stakeholder Engagement“ managed by the BRIDGE initiative.