Celsius Initiative’s annual event, the Celsius Summit is 2021 hosted by The French city of Strasbourg. The city is ambitious in regard to the energy transition with a goal of 100% renewable energy by 2050. To achieve this the city highlights Energy Democracy as an important concept that needs to be present in the energy transition. Jacqui CULLEN is District Heating Project Manager and Gerard POL GILI is Head of Renewable Energies in Strasbourg.
What is energy democracy and how is it relevant to the citizens of Strasbourg?
Among other things, energy democracy covers the wide subjects of transparency and citizen participation in the energy transition and the energy choices made in a city. Energy democracy is a goal in Strasbourg, because our ambitions for the energy transition are extremely high (100% renewable energy in 2050) and we know that we need to mobilize every single citizen in order to achieve those ambitions. Climate and energy plans need to be co-constructed in order to create workable solutions that can be put in to place quickly and successfully. The citizens of the city are the first to be effected by infrastructure projects, energy prices, local climate change and more, and therefore need to be included in decision making processes. This includes increased capacity building at all levels and a stronger citizens empowerment of energy issues. This is crucial in order to make the right choice and improve the acceptability of some infrastructure.
How does the city work to keep the democracy aspect of the city’s energy system/heating and cooling?
Integrating democracy to energy projects is a challenge, in particular with regards to the local district heating systems. Working with a concession model allows the municipality to reduce investment and risk by empowering a third party to develop and run each network, and therefore “green” the systems as soon as possible. However, the tradeoff is a public procurement process to choose the operator, which requires a necessary amount of industrial and commercial secrecy. Confronting these realities is a challenge.
For the past 2 years Strasbourg has been working on different projects with the hope of developing energy democracy in local Solar PV projects. This includes identifying potential sites and opening them up for third party investors (car parks, school rooftops, etc.) and also supporting the creation of a citizen’s investment company/energy community that hopes to create, finance and manage PV projects throughout the greater urban area.
What do you think is best practice regarding energy democracy? Who is responsible for making it stronger?
Energy transition is definitely happening (or at least being executed) at a local level, which is an added value in terms of energy democracy. This subsidiarity principle entitles local government to implement energy democracy in a city, but in most cases probably has to be demanded by local citizens, institutions and companies in order for it to become a priority.
We hope that the abovementioned solar PV energy community may be a good practice that can serve as the precursor of local citizen involvement. Establishing new social relations with different types of stakeholders (citizens, elected officials, companies, associations, farmers) is a shared responsibility but can be enhanced by local government. That process can help scaling up a small energy community to larger projects such as district heating systems or large solar thermal facilities. Some good examples can be found in Denmark and Germany.
How can a democratic energy system support a green energy transition?
The energy transition facing us is so complex that every opportunity has to be explored. Different methods and types of projects need to be implemented through every industry, sector and type of energy use. Truly successful projects are accepted whole heartedly by local citizens, as they see that the benefits overcome any potential downsides – this can be greatly facilitated by incorporating energy democracy tools (such as consultative processes, crowdfunding tools, community energy involvement, etc.) in to the decision making process.