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Europe’s Energy Transition: Can Renewable Energy Communities Lead to Greater Energy Justice?

by Emily Jack-Scott, Aspen Global Change Institute

March 2022 Research Review

To say that the European energy system is at a crossroads is an understatement. As European nations operationalize their commitments to the Paris Agreement, policymakers from across the EU and the UK are promoting the creation of more renewable energy communities (RECs). REC proponents cite additional benefits, including harnessing the power of individual households, improving buy-in for renewable energy, building new skills among REC members, and democratizing the energy transition. In light of events in Ukraine, there may be an even greater premium placed on such infrastructure.

European policymakers also view renewable energy communities as central to their efforts to ensure a just energy transition. In theory, RECs have the potential to empower communities and benefit energy-vulnerable and energy-poor households. But how does this play out in practice? A series of recent research and review articles caution against the broad-stroke assumption that RECs automatically produce greater energy justice and alleviate energy poverty. The authors argue that unless critically acknowledged and addressed, RECs could actually exacerbate socioeconomic divides and further disadvantage vulnerable communities. But local and national policies can address potential pitfalls and ensure that RECs can indeed be a mechanism for energy justice in the transition.

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Published Date: 
March 15, 2022