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Lottomatica Foundation and Percorsi di secondo welfare started a collaboration on the topic of sustainability. Our Laboratory will accompany the Foundation in defining a programme agenda that takes sustainability issues into consideration. Alongside more strictly research activities, we will also propose some thematic in-depth studies that will be published on the Foundation’s website. This article is part of a series of articles we will write on the various facets of social and environmental sustainability. It has been published on the Lottomatica Foundation website and is also available in Italian.

On the one hand, there is a need for clean energy to cut emissions and combat the climate crisis. On the other, there is the cost of bills, which has skyrocketed, with a consequent growth in energy poverty. In between, among the many solutions now urgently needed, there are RECs.

The acronym stands for Renewable Energy Communities (in Italian CER – Comunità Energetiche Rinnovabili).

An REC, broadly speaking, can be defined as a group of individuals who share self-produced energy from renewable sources: individuals, SMEs and local authorities, as well as research, third sector and religious associations,” writes Daniela Pappadà in lavoce.info. These people, she continues, “in this way create a tool for energy efficiency (and thus savings), in order to fight climate change and energy poverty”.

Benefits for communities

In practice, local plants allow energy to be generated and shared among the members of the REC, saving through self-consumption of what is produced. If production is higher than consumption, the excess energy can be fed into the electricity grid, which pays for it, or it can be kept in storage systems for use when renewable sources are not available or there are peaks in demand that exceed the production capacity of the plant. In addition, RECs can request incentives from the Energy Services Manager (in Italian, ‘Gestore dei Servizi Energetici’ – GSE) for consumption that takes place in the same time period as production (110 euros for each MegaWatt/hour produced and consumed in the same time period). Those who are part of an REC, therefore, continue to pay the bill to their supplier but, for the reasons mentioned above, the prices are much lower than those on the market.

The objective of an REC, as Ilaria Sesana clearly explains in a report for the A Brave New Europe project, “is not to make profits, but rather to provide environmental, economic or social benefits to the community and those who are part of it”.

According to a study published by the consulting firm Elemens and Legambiente, energy communities will be able to contribute to the energy transition with about 17 Gigawatts of new power from renewable sources by 2030, equivalent to about 30% of the climate target set by the Integrated National Energy and Climate Plan (the document will have to be revised by the end of the year).

In short, they are certainly not enough on their own, but RECs can be an important piece in the complicated puzzle of the decarbonisation of our economy. Besides, as mentioned, environmental ones are not the only benefits of Renewable Energy Communities.

Relationships and poverty

Luca Tricarico explains in an article published for Labsus that in RECs “energy is not considered merely as a simple economic asset or an ecological phenomenon, but also, and critically as a social relationship. Collaboration and sharing are in fact the core principles of this model, which is aimed at increasing the sense of community, local economic development and “energy democracy.”

There is also the issue of the fight against poverty.

According to the Italian Observatory on Energy Povertyat the end of 2021 energy poverty affected 2.2 million families: about 125,000 more than in 2020; in percentage terms, the phenomenon affected 8.5% of Italian families. We are talking about families who cannot heat or cool their homes. With RECs, they could find a way to improve their situation. With RECs, they could find a way to improve their situation.

Two models have emerged so far to get families in difficulty involved. The first provides for their direct entry into the REC, the second the creation of a fund for social projects, partly funded by the incentives obtained from the REC.

The first model is being implemented by the Comunità Energetica e Solidale di Napoli Est (Energy and Solidarity Community of Eastern Naples), promoted by Legambiente Campania together with the Fondazione Famiglia di Maria, with the support of Fondazione con il Sud. The REC, according to the Legambiente website, is “composed of forty families who, thanks to the creation of a photovoltaic system, will produce energy together, dividing the proceeds as a concrete support for energy poverty in one of the most disadvantaged districts of Naples, San Giovanni a Teduccio.”

The second case is that of Lecco: The Municipality has launched a process to establish an REC with several major players in the region. The members, as proposed by the council, will give 60% of the incentives obtained to a fund that will be managed by the Lecchese Community Foundation in order to fight poverty, especially energy poverty, in the region.

Funds and difficulties

We have been talking about RECs for a long time now. But the coming months appear critical for understanding whether this tool of such high potential will really gain ground in our country.

On the one hand, in fact, the National Recovery and Resilience Plan (NRRP; in Italian PNRR), has allocated 2.2 billion to “”improve and extend the green energy production of the energy communities”, to be spent by 2026. On the other hand, however, according to data collected by Legambiente, of 100 RECs mapped up to June 2022, only 16 completed the activation process with the GSE [Energy Services Operator] and only 3 of these received the first state incentives.

According to the Minister of the Environment and Energy Security, Gilberto Pichetto Fratinbetween 15,000 and 40,000 Renewable Energy Communities will be created thanks to the resources of the NRRP. A wide range, but for Minister Pichetto Fratin it is still “a very high number”.