To some people, seeing a town with a solar panel on every roof seems inspiring. “Now that’s a community that cares about green energy!” they’d say. 

But in Belgium, solar panels are ubiquitous. In most communities that use them, each home produces and consumes its own individual energy, and then injects any surplus back into the grid.

At WeSmart, we think a smart energy community takes things even further. It’s a community that distributes the energy they produce in an efficient way that’s better both on an environmental and community level.

Take Wallonia, a leading example.

Neighbors in this region, whether households, companies, or institutions, can share their production of energy. Instead of buying electricity from the grid, you can now just buy any surplus energy your neighbors produced from their solar panels.

A residential building can install single solar panels to distribute across the whole building. Any reasonable combination of energy sharing within a neighborhood is possible due to new regulations that promote smart energy. 

This is called collective self-consumption of electricity. 

In spring of 2019, Wallonia adopted a decree supporting these energy communities, defined self-consumption as “process involving sharing electricity produced from renewable energy sources or good quality cogeneration between one or more producers and one or more end clients within the same clearly defined geographical area, via the public distribution or transport network.”

What are the advantages of an energy community?

Why is it any better than just shooting surplus energy back into the grid? Energy communities have various benefits:

  • Boosts the income and savings of people in the communities
  • Allows for better integration to renewable energies
  • Promotes smart grid management
  • Both parties buying and selling energy get a good deal
  • Optimizes existing infrastructure
  • Maximizes renewable energies

It’s worth the move.

How exactly does it work?

Buildings with solar panels are producing energy whenever the sun’s out. But it’s not always being consumed. Solar energy should be consumed while being produced — during the day. Since that’s not always possible, a lot of excess energy would normally be shot back into the grid.

Instead of the energy produced being seen at an individual building or household level, energy communities take it at a neighborhood level. For instance, a school is empty and not consuming energy during the summer. But it’s producing a lot of it. This energy is distributed to the neighbors at a good price for both parties.

If you go on vacation and stop consuming for a while, you can sell your energy back to your neighbors as well. It’s a way to maximize the use of the energy that’s being produced, keep it in the community, and help all members of the community.

How can other communities follow suit?

There are a few natural questions that arise for communities trying to move to this structure. A wannabe energy community can try to take an example from this Belgian region.

Wallonia has legislation in place that makes it possible for anyone to join or leave the energy community. They only have to be connected to the public low voltage grid. The best and easiest way to make the switch is to work with a company that understands energy communities and can help manage everything.

At WeSmart, we provide intuitive digital solutions to set up and manage energy communities to make this process easier.