Europe is planning to set up 100 or more “positive energy districts” by 2025, enabling whole neighbourhoods to become net electricity exporters to the grid. But the success of the effort could hinge on several factors, including an aggressive energy retrofit program to reduce local energy demand.
After five years of development effort, “there are 10 to 20 such pilots under way today across the continent, depending on the precise definition of a ‘positive energy district’,” Greentech Media reports. “But there are plans to have at least 100 such districts in Europe by 2025, combining efficiency measures with distributed generation to deliver a net surplus of energy over the course of the year.”
Greentech traces the idea back to an implementation plan introduced by the European Commission in 2018. The document concluded that positive energy districts could “raise the quality of life in cities, contribute to reaching the EU’s climate targets, and boost Europe’s know-how in clean energy technologies,” the U.S.-based industry newsletter writes. Christoph Gollner, program manager with the Austrian Research Promotion Agency, said the United States and China were keeping an eye on the EU’s progress.
But “it’s not easy extending energy efficiency and distributed generation from buildings to entire neighbourhoods,” Greentech cautions. “The first challenge is governance: City administrations are traditionally organized in silos, which makes it hard to develop the collaborative planning processes and policies required for positive energy districts.”
Positive energy districts also face “many thorny legal issues, since regulations around topics such as peer-to-peer energy trading are still in their infancy.”
“I think it’s very ambitious,” Gollner told Greentech reporter Jason Deign. “The main challenge is retrofitting. Most positive energy districts are focusing on new developments. But I’ve worked in retrofitting for many years, and these processes take a long time.”
“This concept depends a lot on the non-technical side more than the technical side,” added Miguel Ángel García Fuentes, energy area manager at Cartif, a Spanish technology centre. “We have the technologies,” but “from the non-technology side, there are elements that have to be solved in order to ensure that this concept works. Regulation is one of the elements.”
Greentech describes regulatory barriers that limited the way a positive energy district could function in Valladolid, Spain, the behaviour changes required to reconcile the concept with the realities of an older building stock in Limerick, Ireland, and the citizen observatory that became one of the most important features of the Limerick project.
“This allows residents within the positive energy district to have a say in the program, which is shared with Trondheim in Norway, and which aims to integrate more than 4,500 gigawatt-hours of new renewable generation into the electricity and heating systems of both cities,” Deign writes.