In this article we take a closer look at energy community projects and the lessons learned from them in the Bulgarian city of Burgas.

Energy communities or cooperatives are initiatives in which citizens jointly invest in the production of electricity and/or heat from renewable sources. This can be photovoltaics, wind power or biomass processing. The members of the energy community can use the energy generated for their own needs or divide the profits is sold to third parties.

Energy communities are not well known in Bulgaria. So far, no such initiative has been implemented in the country, nor has it been regulated in the Bulgarian legislature. By the end of 2021, Directive 2018/2001, part of the Clean Energy Package, will be introduced, the main aim of which is to activate funds in decentralized clean energy production, leading to an increase in the production and consumption of renewable energy. The Municipality of Burgas, on the Black Sea, is already developing plans and gaining experience that can be used in other local communities.

In December 2020, the Municipality of Burgas announced its plans to increase the share of electricity from renewable energy sources and biofuels to 32% in the next 10 years. This progress would not have been possible without the active participation of citizens.

What lessons are being learned in Burgas?
  • Citizens are dependent on the assistance of the municipality for up-to-date information on how they could benefit from renewable energy. This information could be better provided through an platform, which could share information on questions of finance, administrative procedures, technical features, etc.
  • Thanks to the social dialogue generated among communities participating in the projects and their positive experience so far in the energy projects, solar panels for housing blocks will now be extended in the next phase of the National Energy Efficiency Program (NEEP).
  • One of the pitfalls of the NEEP, however, is that it has drawn a dividing line between large multi-family blocks of flats and smaller multi-family buildings that do not meet the criteria to benefit from the funding. There has been some criticism that such programs are designed to provide solutions on a centralized basis, and are proving inflexible; future programs should propose alternative formats for different groups of citizens to engage with.
  • Project participants felt that incentives such as low-interest loans, grace periods and deductibles should be offered in order to generate the interest of consumers and the best results for both energy efficiency and lower energy bills. When the only incentive on the table is the offer of renovation without needing to foot the bill, consumers were less inclined to participate in the project.
Incentives for self-participation

In order to achieve higher public acceptance of  renewable technology, citizens must be aware of the material incentive.

The impact of energy efficiency measures or the construction of renewable installations should be discussed with the public, with concrete and realistic forecasts of the expected effects. In this regard, project participants emphasized that although the results of the renovation is tangible for their residents, it’s in the interest of the whole local community to publicise what energy and financial resources are saved after the implementation of energy efficiency measures.

Legislative changes are needed to enable business models in which the roofs of large blocks of flats can be leased to companies to build PV panels on them. This would allow to benefit from additional income, funds for roof repairs and maintenance of the building. Finally, technical and regulatory solutions must be found for the direct supply of locally produced electricity to individual households so that it can be used to support those in energy poverty.

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The STEP project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No. 847080.