Energy Communities for Just Energy Transitions on a Local
Scale: Initial Lessons from the Lightness Project †
Stephan Slingerland * , Jordan Young, Ruth Mourik * and Lena Lutz
Citation: Slingerland, S.; Young, J.;
Mourik, R.; Lutz, L. Energy
Communities for Just Energy
Transitions on a Local Scale: Initial
Lessons from the Lightness Project.
Environ. Sci. Proc. 2021,11, 29.
Academic Editor: Zia Lennard
Published: 9 December 2021
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† Presented at the Sustainable Places 2021, Rome, Italy, 29 September–1 October 2021.
New energy communities that produce, store, trade and distribute renewable energy guided
by innovative digital platforms are currently emerging in many EU member states. Expectations
about these communities and their contribution to a ‘just engagement’ of citizens in energy transition
are high. However, detailed monitoring of the degree to which these expectations have been realised
thus far is often lacking. An innovative way to measure the just engagement of end-users as one
of these expectations is based on criteria from environmental justice theories that have developed
in recent years. This paper describes the initiation of seven pilot communities in ﬁve countries
around a speciﬁc digital platform, and their assessment with a tailored environmental, justice-based
framework. Based on the assessment—part of the ongoing Horizon 2020 project, ‘Lightness’—several
challenges to just engagement are identiﬁed that are relevant for the project and beyond.
energy communities; environmental justice; distributed generation; citizen empower-
ment; energy transition
The European Union has set the ambitious goal to become the ﬁrst climate-neutral
continent by 2050. The ‘European Green Deal’ and the ‘Fit for 55’ package specify the
policy measures toward that goal and toward an interim target of 55% emission reduction
in 2030 [
]. In order to reach these goals, the European Commission strives for a ‘just
transition’ that addresses ‘the challenge at the heart of Europe’s green transition (
. . .
) to make
sure the beneﬁts and opportunities that come with it are available to all, as quickly and as fairly as
The stimulation of energy communities is seen as an important instrument to con-
tribute to a fair transition and to public support for reaching emission reduction targets in
the energy sector: ‘[Energy communities] contribute to increase public acceptance of renewable
energy projects and make it easier to attract private investments in the clean energy transition. At
the same time, they have the potential to provide direct beneﬁts to citizens by advancing energy
efﬁciency and lowering their electricity bills’ [
]. This paper discusses the development of
seven energy communities in ﬁve countries and their monitoring and evaluation with
respect to their contribution toward a just energy transition in the European Horizon 2020
project, ‘Lightness’ .
Some key characteristics of the initial energy communities from which the Lightness
project starts are listed in Table 1.
The initial energy communities are the pool from which Lightness recruits partici-
pants for the pilots. The aim is that, in each of the pilots—based on their speciﬁc local
circumstances—the ICT platform will inform participants about their own energy bill and
Environ. Sci. Proc. 2021,11, 29. https://doi.org/10.3390/environsciproc2021011029 https://www.mdpi.com/journal/environsciproc
Environ. Sci. Proc. 2021,11, 29 2 of 5
renewable energy consumption and generation, provide feedback and tips for behavioural
change based on their consumption and generation performance in comparison to other
pilot group participants, and introduce a gaming element to stimulate competition between
the pilot participants. In addition, additional widgets are to be developed to provide for
‘gaming’ and some community element in the pilots. In France, the pilot participants are
the energy managers of the participating businesses; in the other countries, participants are
residents (owners or tenants).
Table 1. Main characteristics of initial energy communities in the Lightness project.
Community Main Characteristics of Initial Energy Community Size of Initial
Size of Pilot Community
1. Italy (Cagliari—Condominium) One apartment block with cooperative of apartment
owners dealing with all building issues 8 households 8 households
2. France (Chambery—Technolac
business park) Innovative business park 230 businesses and
university 20 businesses
3. Spain (Alginet) Existing cooperative electricity supplier, supplying
Alginet village 13,000 inhabitants 15–30 households
4. Poland (Wroclaw, Spoldzielnia
Cooperative of apartment owners dealing with all
building issues 260 households 10–20 households
5–7. Netherlands (Woerden, Helden
and Delft ‘Zero-on-the-Meter’
(ZOM) and non-ZOM houses)
Owners and tenants of ZOM houses and apartments
newly built or renovated by one construction company,
plus a selection of non-ZOM houses in the same
>200 households 15–30 households
The performance of the pilots with respect to just engagement is measured based
on the most recent academic insights into energy justice and environmental justice. Energy
justice entails at least three main elements: recognition of the aims and goals of partici-
pants, participative procedures, and a fair distribution of beneﬁts and burdens between
all stakeholders involved [
]. The concept of environmental justice adds to these key
preconditions for a just transition the aspects of recognizing the capabilities of participants
and providing them with responsibilities for the outcomes of their participation [8–11].
Taking into account these justice aspects, Breukers et al. [
] developed a practical tool
for monitoring and evaluating just engagement in local energy projects. The model consists
of six elements: recognition, participation, distribution, capabilities, responsibilities, and
learning. This ‘Voicer model’ is also used in the Lightness project to assess how the
engagement activities are performing when assessed in terms of the six key elements of a
just approach. As such, the monitoring performed with the Voicer model is the starting
point of the learning process that feeds back into the ICT platform and engagement within
and beyond the project.
The Lightness project started in December 2020 and will run for three years. It is,
therefore, still in its initial stages; pilots are just beginning to initialize their engagement
plans and recruiting. All results so far must be viewed within this context. As a ﬁrst step in
the learning process, the Voicer model was operationalized for the Lightness project. This
model involves identifying one key performance indicator per Voicer element and speci-
fying this overall indicator for four main project phases that will occur in each of the ﬁve
pilots: pre-engagement, recruitment, engagement, and post-engagement/evaluation [
To ensure these important justice considerations are taken on board by the pilot leads in
the design of the engagement and recruiting plans, four workshops were held to train pilot
leaders in the just engagement of participants. Table 2gives an overview of the initial
indicator framework developed for the ongoing project phases of pre-engagement and
Environ. Sci. Proc. 2021,11, 29 3 of 5
Table 2. Lightness just engagement framework, pre-engagement and recruitment phases.
Just Engagement Indicator Pre-Engagement Phase Recruitment Phase
Needs, wishes, and ambitions
of community members are
Roles, aims, and interests of
stakeholders are identiﬁed
Formal and informal structures of
community are identiﬁed
All potential participants feel
recognized and respected in the way
they are approached with the chosen
Existing formal and informal
structures, activities, and
ambitions of the community
Readiness conditions for pilot and
impact on participation are assessed
A diverse and sufﬁciently large group
of participants is being recruited
People are recruited after receiving
complete, accessible, and trustworthy
information and after giving their
All relevant stakeholders and
their respective stakes are
Potential beneﬁts, costs, and risks of
pilot activities for all stakeholders are
Participants and stakeholders feel that
costs and beneﬁts incurred through the
pilot are distributed fairly among
community members and between the
community and related stakeholders
The group of community
members participating in the
pilot project is representative
of their community in terms
of age, gender, education,
income, and ethnicity
Required capacities for meaningfully
engaging in the project activities and
valorising them are identiﬁed
(Potential) participants feel capable of
meaningfully participating in the
project; barriers for meaningful
participation through lack of capacities
are identiﬁed and addressed
Community members have an
effective voice and vote in
Activities in which participants are
involved are identiﬁed, including
Clear communication of expectations of
participants throughout the project, as
far as known
Participants formally consent to take up
Full and trustworthy
information about the pilot
project and the activities
deployed therein is readily
Pilot leaders mutually discuss and
reﬂect on planned engagement
activities; Pilot leaders feel fully
equipped to carry out the engagement
Key process and outcome lessons from
each engagement phase are recorded
and used for the ﬁnal recommendations
for replication and scaling up
As a second step in the monitoring and evaluation process, the operationalized Voicer
framework was applied to the ﬁrst phases of the Lightness project. In this way, several
challenges for just engagement were identiﬁed that deserve further attention in this project
When assessing participation, it has been found that the pilot sites differ largely in terms
of the underlying social infrastructures serving as a basis for study recruitment. In Italy, the
pilot site consists of one building in which all residents are formally and informally well
connected. This has already resulted in all residents agreeing to participate in the project.
Participants still have to be recruited in the other communities, where social connections
are far weaker. In these communities, potential participants, in general, are only formally
linked, respectively, as socios of a village energy cooperative (Spain), as energy managers of
an enterprise in a business park (France), or as residents of a neighbourhood community
consisting of several high-rise buildings (Poland). In the Netherlands, even formal links
between the residents do not exist apart from living in the same neighbourhood, of which
most buildings are zero-energy housing built by the same construction company.
When looking into recognition, the assessment suggests that there is a tension between
the ICT platform development and taking into account the individual wishes and needs
Environ. Sci. Proc. 2021,11, 29 4 of 5
of participants. Whereas the former asks for a certain degree of standardisation and
categorisation of participants’ views to allow for economies of scale and standardisation, the
latter requires large ﬂexibility and adaptability from the platform design, in terms of both
the user interface as well as individualised feedback that can be provided. Furthermore, it
is not yet clear whether the gaming design currently embedded in the main project ICT
platform is appealing to different groups of potential participants, as deeper insights into
participants’ wishes and needs per pilot site have yet to be acquired.
Distribution and capacities are further key points to take into account from the pilots.
The current platform design allows participants to gain ‘points’ in competition with other
participants. National regulations in the various countries still make it unclear to what
extent the points gained through behaving in more environmentally friendly ways can be
turned into real ﬁnancial proﬁts in each pilot site. Differing capacities are, to some extent,
addressed by the platform by unlocking different levels of information for different groups
of participants; however, the central position of an ICT platform in the project by itself
excludes the participation of groups that are not computer literate.
Responsibilities and learning processes also have to be carefully monitored in the further
stages of the project. They are currently addressed in the project through three main activi-
ties: the design of user participation forms that can make transparent all responsibilities
of project participants, the monitoring and evaluation framework described in this paper,
and dedicated workshops for pilot leads. To what extent these are successful can only be
concluded in later stages of the project.
Finally, the initial assessment of the just engagement aspects of the Lightness project
raises a more fundamental question about what exactly makes an ‘energy community’.
Legally, while all initial ‘communities’ in the Lightness project, in some way or another,
involve ‘energy’ as a binding concept, most of them do not centre around renewables,
emission reduction, or environmental issues. Some of them (Netherlands, France) are not
even a formal community in the sense of the broad EU deﬁnitions of ‘citizen’ or ‘renewable’
energy communities [
]. Socially, using the same ICT platform and comparing their
own energy use to that of other platform users, by itself, will not necessarily result in
more ‘community’ ties between residents or empower them into developing a shared
‘community’ energy vision for the future. Therefore, a more precise deﬁnition of what
exactly makes an energy community would help trigger more tailored support for a just
transition via such communities.
The present paper shows that exactly what results in just engagement in a project,
such as Lightness, is not a given. Moreover, despite the formal and general EU deﬁnitions
of ‘citizen’ and ‘renewable’ energy communities, what exactly constitutes an ‘energy
community’ and how it relates to ‘just transition’ is still an open question. The continued
monitoring and evaluation of the challenges impeding justice, and the evolution of the
energy communities in the Lightness project in the coming years, therefore, have to provide
further insights into these important questions.
Writing—original draft preparation, S.S.; writing—review and editing, R.M.,
J.Y. and L.L. All authors have read and agreed to the published version of the manuscript.
This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and
innovation programme under grant agreement No. 953020.
Data Availability Statement:
See for more information https://www.lightness-project.eu/ (accessed
on 20 September 2021).
Conﬂicts of Interest: The authors declare no conﬂict of interest.
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