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(Working Paper #13) Transition in Trouble?: The Rise and Fall of "Community Energy" in Europe

By Sean Sweeney, John Treat and Irene HongPing Shen - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, March 2020

This TUED Working Paper explores the current crisis of local, community, and cooperative energy. Our focus is Europe where these types of initiatives have made the most progress but now find themselves facing an uncertain future. In this paper we will explain what happened, and why. The goals of this paper are twofold.

The first goal is to draw a clear line of demarcation between the bold claims being made in the name of local and community energy, “energy citizenship,” and similar concepts on the one hand, and the cur-rent reality on the other—a reality that largely confines local energy initiatives to the margins of energy systems. In the case of Europe, the distance between the claims and the reality is vast, and it is widening.

Local and community energy has attracted a lot of support and enthusiasm from activists, and it is not hard to understand why this is the case. Efforts to advance community energy are frequently carried out in the name of a commitment to social justice, advancing equality, and empowering ordinary people to take a more active role in the transition to a low carbon future. Additionally, the activists and organizations undertaking such initiatives nearly always identify with a “values-driven” mission and aim to rise above considerations of personal gain or private profit.

For a period, it seemed that such initiatives were emerging everywhere across Europe. The growth of renewable energy and the proliferation of citizen and community ownership seemed to be in-separable from each other. Spurred on by falling costs of wind and solar technologies, a radical transition in energy ownership—and a shift in control away from large energy companies to small producers and consumers—seemed not only possible, but perhaps even imminent.

But recent policy changes in Europe have placed community energy into a pattern of decline. The removal of subsidies, particularly the Feed-in Tariff, and other incentives has led to a dramatic slow-down in local energy initiatives and cooperatives. The number of households installing solar photovoltaic panels (solar PV) has slowed to a crawl as onshore wind projects have also declined. While offshore wind installations are increasing, the total level of investment and deployment of renew-able energy in Europe has fallen dramatically.

Read the report (PDF).

The Sky's Limit: Why Denmark Must Phase Out North Sea Oil and Gas Extraction

By Bronwen Tucker, et. al. - Oil Change International, September 2019

Over the past thirty years, Denmark has positioned itself as a global climate leader through its policies to support wind power, district heating, and energy efficiency, amongst other actions.5Building on this, in June 2019, the newly elected Danish government committed to a new climate target of reducing emissions 70 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, surpassing its previous goal of 40 percent by 2020.

However, Denmark’s plans to expand North Sea oil and fossil gas extraction undermine this record of climate action. This is because the potential carbon emissions from the oil, gas, and coal in the world’s currently operatingfields and mines would already fully exhaust and exceed carbon budgets consistent with the Paris goals. Simply put, we cannot afford to bring new extraction online — in Denmark or anywhere else.

This report applies these stark global carbon budget limits to the outlook for oil and gas production in Denmark. We find that Denmark’s plans to allow new North Sea oil and gas projects in the 2020s and 2030s would undermine its aspirations of climate leadership. The carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from burning Danish-produced oil and gas would be substantial, overtaking Denmark’s total expected domestic CO2 emissions from energy by mid-2025 (see Figure 1, with details on the domestic reduction curves in Section 1). In other words, if current plans to expand North Sea extraction are left unaddressed, Denmark will either (a) meet its domestic emissions targetsbut export oil and gas with associated emissions that overshadow this domestic progress, or (b) fail to meet its emissions targets and continue to consume more oil and gas domestically than is Paris-aligned.

Source: Oil Change International analysis based on data from Rystad UCube, Danish Energy Agency, and 92 Group.8There is a cumulative 665 million tonnes (Mt) of CO2 associated with Danish oil and gas between 2019 and 2050. Of these potential CO2 emissions, 401 Mt of CO2 would come from new projects yet to be developed that would peak between the mid-2020s and mid-2030s. This means over 60 percent of anticipated emissions related to Denmark’s oil and gas extraction in the coming decades are not yet committed — the projects they are associated with will either require new licenses from the Danish government or final investment decisions (and final government approval) to be developed.

Read the report (PDF).

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