Energy Cooperatives as Energy Transition Actors

Open Access
Conference Proceedings
Authors: Nils HellmuthEva-Maria Jakobs

Abstract: Germany is pursuing the ambitious goal of climate neutrality by 2045. In fact, the expansion of renewable energies is taking place far too slowly. There are several reasons for that. Project approval and planning processes are too lengthy and time-consuming; they are also often complicated by citizen protests against wind farms and ground-mounted photovoltaic parks. Various studies show that many protests are the result of perceived conflicts. The nature and extent of the conflicts vary, e.g., depending on the type of conflict, the stakeholders, technology, and local context. Overall, studies show that communication is a crucial factor in the success of infra-structure projects, e.g., as a means of conflict management.Many studies about energy infrastructure projects look at projects that are implement-ed by companies. This study changes the perspective on the ongoing transformation process to renewable energies. The focus is not on companies that need to interest and attract citizens to renewable energy projects but on citizens who join citizen energy cooperatives (CECs) and become local entrepreneurs themselves. The study aims to provide statements on how CECs function, what communication tasks they must master, and what challenges are in communicating internally with members and externally with stakeholders. This includes a deeper understanding of the perspectives for CECs regarding current legislation and planned business models, as well as conflicts that have arisen and are emerging.For the study, CECs were researched online, and executives (n=12) were asked for an interview. Before the in-depth interview, they were asked to complete a questionnaire where they provided information about their cooperative. The literature-based interview guideline addresses three topic areas: (1) CECs' expertise and scope of tasks; (2) communication tasks of the CEC; and (3) perceived risks and conflicts. The interviews were conducted in 2022. The data were anonymized, transcribed, and analyzed qualitatively (interview) and quantitatively (preliminary questionnaire).Results: The respondents understand communication as an essential and success-relevant part of the implementation of CEC energy projects. In recent years, the communication effort for CECs has steadily increased. The most important communication areas are project planning and acquisition, public relations, and member communication. Most respondents are convinced that local acceptance of energy projects is higher when CECs implement projects compared to companies since those responsible are themselves members of the community and therefore share local needs, desires, and problems of the community actors. To remain competitive, the CECs surveyed are expanding their portfolio structure, e.g., by communication-intensive models such as tenant electricity. CECs are developing many formats or pursuing novel approaches. Companies would be well advised to learn from this wealth of ideas from CECs, e.g., in public relations work and addressing new target groups.

Keywords: energy cooperatives, energy communication, infrastructure projects, energy transformation, internal communication

DOI: 10.54941/ahfe1003782

Cite this paper: