Upper Austrian OSS - a support service for the establishment of Renewable Energy Communities

The Renewable Energy Directive enables a new form of sharing economy for the energy transition. Renewable Energy Communities (RECs) are allowed to exchange renewable electricity among its members within geographic proximity without the involvement of an electricity retailer.
As this is a new instrument, significant support is needed to overcome the regulatory, technical, financial and economic challenges and harvest the great potential for the energy transition and the involvement of citizens.

In the context of the Up-Stairs project, the OÖ Energiesparverband (ESV), the regional energy agency, developed their OSS as a support service for the establishment of Energy Communities which supports citizens and municipalities in the region of Upper Austria.
After an intense preparation phase, the service was launched in July 2021, in the moment when the Austrian law allowing the establishment of Renewable Energy Communities entered into force. This enabled the ESV to respond to the significant interest in this new instrument with a well-developed service offer. The offer includes advice and support on regulatory, technical, financial and organisational aspects. 8 engagement events for municipalities, citizens and other key stakeholders were held (roundtables, workshops, training courses, partly on-site, partly online.) with a total of 476 participants. To date, over 350 individual advice sessions (on-site, by phone, video meetings) were held. As a special highlight, the ESV also managed to convince the regional government to launch a dedicated financial support programme for RECs.

  • Digital Platform of Upper Austria (in German language): link will follow soon

Background

On 7 July 2021, Austria’s Parliament adopted a legal framework (Erneuerbaren Ausbau Gesetz - EAG) that enables the establishment of RECs in Austria. According to this legal framework, citizens, municipalities and SMEs can be members of RECs. They can jointly generate, use, store and sell renewable energy.

To be eligible, members must generate or consume energy within the defined area of an energy community ("proximity"). This is defined as follows:

  • generation and consumption must be within the concession area of the same DSO (there are 25 in Upper Austria) and
  • they must be connected via a low-voltage distribution network and down-stream from the same transformer station (for local energy communities) or via the medium-voltage distribution network and down-stream from the same medium-voltage transformer station (for regional energy communities)
  • must enstablish a legal entity

Objectives of RECs

  • primarily environmental, economic or social community benefits rather than financial profits
  • local involvement, acceptance, greater partipation by citizens, more choice for consumers, mobilising additional private capital

Benefits for members of the RECs

  • increase self-consumption of existing PV installations, increase energy independence through additional installations
  • economic benefits (reduced grid tariffs, exemption from electricity levy, renewable energy incentives)
  • interest in a sharing economy

Preparation of the OSS

Within the Upstairs project, 5 Implementation Champions were selected from ESV's team and trained.

To be able to offer a comprehensive support system on RECs, the upskilling included, among others, the following actions:  

  • internal upskilling on RECs, including their technical, financial, organizational and legal specificities, following closely the development of the emerging regulatory framework, interacting with relevant authorities and funding programme managers
    This included, among others, the following aspects:
    • Definitions, objectives of RECs, potential members, proximity aspects (local and regional RECs), possible legal forms, basics on load profiles, grid basics, funding programmes
    • Steps in establishing a REC (including the OSS services in the different steps
    • Grid related issues and role and interaction with the DSOs (e.g. relevant contracts)
    • Motivating and involving citizens and municipalities
  • identification of key stakeholders in the region of Upper Austria
  • developing of internal information documents and FAQs, testing them in practice with service customers
  • planning the information and service roll-out

After an intense preparation phase, the service was launched in July 2021, in the moment when the above mentioned Austrian law entered into force. This enabled the ESV to respond to the significant interest in this new instrument with a well-developed service offer.

Functioning and activities of the OSS

The offer and support offer includes advice and support on regulatory, technical, financial and organisational aspects. This is implemented via individual advice sessions and events (so-called engagement events). ESV managed to trigger a very high interest for the services of the OSS: .
8 engagement events for municipalities, citizens and other key stakeholders were held (roundtables, workshops, training courses, partly on-site, partly online.) with a total of 476 participants. To date, over 350 individual advice sessions (on-site, by phone, video meetings) were held. As a special highlight, the ESV also managed to convince the regional government to launch a dedicated financial support programme for RECs.

Key aspects of the service provision:

  • key target groups: municipalities, citizens
  • market and project facilitation, especially to help with complexity relating to grid issues, regulatory aspects, economic and funding questions, technical aspects
  • financial support for subcontracting preparatory services for a REC through a regional programme triggered by the Upstairs project

The following main steps in establishing a REC have been identified:

  1. Identification of an Initiator (often a mayor/member of the local council or a homeowner)
  2. Identification of potential participants within the same grid area, local or regional REC
    • Key preparatory steps
    • technical issues (supply/demand/load profiles/additional capacities/smart meters)
    • interaction with DSO (e.g. registration on grid portal, contracts, establishment of data exchange)
    • legal/regulatory aspect (cooperative or association, potential other contracts, possibly permits)
    • organisational issues (e.g. external service provider for member management, billing etc.)
  3. Setting-up the legal entity, formal joining of members, contracts with DSO
  4. Start of operation

The following support is offered in different phases of the REC establishment by the OSS

  • Phase 1: Preparation
    First information on framework conditions, first assessment of production and consumption
  • Phase 2: Detailed preparation
    Advice, continuous support, information events, training sessions, rough analyses, financial support, FAQs
  • Phase 3: Establishing RECs
    Advice, continuous support, rough analyses, financial support, FAQs
  • Phase 4: Operation phase
    Advice, presentation of best practice examples, FAQs, exchange with other RECs