It is no secret that fossil fuels based energy should be that: a fossil from the past. Without entering here into the many economic, social, or technological obstacles for this to happen (ideally very very soon), we do say however that renewable energy cooperatives (REcoops) can be a key solution for the energy transition. A form of energy communities, these democratic model (“one share-one vote”) organisations increase actor diversity, citizen participation and local acceptance of renewable energies, while promoting the economic development of all members equally. While in countries like Germany as early as in the 19th century energy cooperatives served remote locations deemed too poorly profitable for large companies, in the last decades REcoops have become an emerging international phenomenon for decentralized electricity production.
In Canada, Ontario-based not-for-profit SolarShare is the country’s leading renewable energy co-op, having a mission to increase community-based solar electricity generation across the province: from rural systems to larger arrays on industrial rooftops – for example, from a pool-noodle factory- and in non-arable fields. In operation since 2010, the coop has grown to over 2000 members – any Ontario resident – and owns and operates 51 commercial scale solar power projects. While they don’t work therefore with residential installations, these projects are community-funded through the coop members’ purchases of the so-called Solar Bonds: an investment in SolarShare’s portfolio, of $1,000 minimum, with an 4.5% fixed interest for 2 years. Additionally, non-member businesses, organisations or municipalities may also invest in the coop. (In case you live in Ontario and you are interested: as per their website, Solar Bonds seem to be currently sold out, but should be offered again this summer). Since a few years, SolarShare has decided to publicly share their data through live monitors. In total, the coop’s projects generate annually over 17 million kilowatt-hours of clean electricity – estimated in a reduction of 500 tonnes CO2.
By not supplying energy to individual consumers, Solar Share serves rather as a community financial tool, even if its members- citizens may see more clearly the implications of their actions for the socioecological transition. Other cooperatives in the energy sector cover both production and distribution, having a focus on reasonably priced renewable energy for consumers. These citizen-owned initiatives rely on their own production rather than buying from volatile markets and have seen their demand increased with the recent growing energy prices. This is the case, for example, of Som Energia in Spain, also a non-profit cooperative and, with nearly 84000 members, one of the largest REcoops in Europe.