Positive energy neighbourhoods: Building a resilient and inclusive Europe – EURACTIV

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of Euractiv Media network.
By Gabi Kaiser and Maarten De Groote
11-09-2023
Opinion Advocates for ideas and draws conclusions based on the author/producer’s interpretation of facts and data.
Positive Energy Neighbourhoods across Europe can help the continent in its green transition, providing solutions for sustainability and energy efficiency. [Red Eye Stock]

Faced with an energy crisis, Positive Energy Neighbourhoods (PENs) could become Europe’s solution for sustainable and energy-efficient urban spaces as it moves forward with the green transition, write Maarten De Groote and Gabi Kaiser.  
Maarten De Groote is the Coordinator of oPEN Lab and Senior Expert Smart Energy and Built Environment at Vito / EnergyVille; Gabi Kaiser is the Communications Lead of oPEN Lab and Senior Project Manager at Steinbeis Europa Zentrum. 
The recent military aggression by Russia against Ukraine has brought about a period of unrest and geopolitical uncertainty in Europe. The implications of this conflict are extensive, affecting not only matters of war and violence but also resonating in the European economy and energy sector.
As energy prices surge and agricultural resources grow scarce, the urgent necessity for a truly independent energy system is now more evident than ever. The European Commission’s plan REPowerEU seeks to emancipate Europe from reliance on Russian fossil fuels by capitalising on energy efficiency, renewables, and energy adaptability in a rapid shift towards clean energy.
In this context, initiatives such as Positive Energy Neighbourhoods (PENs) play a pivotal role in achieving these goals.
Positive Energy Neighbourhoods (PENs) represent a positive step in Europe’s energy transition. These neighbourhoods champion highly efficient and adaptable urban spaces that generate an excess of renewable energy.
By amalgamating sustainable construction techniques, smart grid technologies, and local energy production, PENs not only curtail greenhouse carbon emissions but also fortify resilience against energy price fluctuations and interruptions. The European Commission has duly acknowledged the significance of PENs and actively champions their spread across Europe through diverse policies and funding mechanisms.
The European Commission’s Clean Energy Package, lays out ambitious targets for the EU member states in terms of renewable energy deployment, energy efficiency enhancements, and long-term planning. These policies provide a supportive framework for the advancement of Positive Energy Neighbourhoods by urging member states to adopt comprehensive approaches to energy planning and to prioritise local renewable energy production and energy efficiency initiatives.
Additionally, the European Commission’s Smart Cities and Communities Initiative aims to speed up the development of intelligent and sustainable cities throughout Europe, which includes the implementation of Positive Energy Neighbourhoods. Through this initiative, the Commission extends financial support and technical expertise to cities and communities to facilitate the adoption of innovative energy solutions and the integration of renewable energy sources at the local level.
Despite their promise, Positive Energy Neighbourhoods encounter several hurdles. Initial capital outlays, regulatory and zoning restrictions, technological constraints, and the imperative for behavioural shifts and awareness represent noteworthy challenges. Furthermore, location-specific considerations, grid integration, and ensuring socioeconomic inclusivity are crucial elements that demand attention. Surmounting these obstacles needs collaborative endeavours and inventive solutions from governments, industry experts, and communities.
Positive Energy Neighbourhoods serve as testing grounds for pioneering technologies, energy management systems, and strategies for citizen engagement. Demonstrating successful PEN implementations and addressing challenges related to citizen involvement will furnish valuable insights and best practices that can be duplicated in other European cities and communities.
To conclude, Positive Energy Neighbourhoods constitute a pivotal facet of Europe’s energy transition towards self-reliance, sustainability, and resilience. Bolstered by policies and initiatives from the European Commission, PENs offer a practical route to curbing greenhouse gas emissions, heightening energy efficiency, and empowering local communities. The establishment and replication of Positive Energy Neighbourhoods, ultimately contribute to a resilient and inclusive Europe.

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