Farm to table, the energy way

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From the July edition of pv magazine

All throughout the world, people now find themselves slowly easing out of self-isolation. No longer able to interact with family members, friends, or neighbors face to face, it felt as if many of the communities we are a part of had dissipated before our very eyes. As lockdowns are eased in certain countries, a return to “normal” still feels like a pipe dream rather than a quantifiable plan.

Thankfully, even in these uncertain times, the desire for human contact is leading us to find new ways to connect and interact with the people around us. From intimate living room concerts by the world’s biggest artists streamed live on Instagram, to important business meetings and even conferences taking place over virtual platforms, people throughout the world are finding new and innovative ways to fulfill their need to be part of a community.

While Covid-19 swept the globe unexpectedly, we should not be surprised by the quick and creative solutions being put forward to bring ourselves back together. Beyond just connecting over digital media, the crisis has brought about a heightened sense of solidarity among communities big and small. From helping vulnerable neighbors with groceries to limiting unnecessary trips outside, people from all walks of life are expanding the boundaries of what it means to be a community.

Energy communities

As our understanding of what a community can entail and how important it can be to our society grows, perhaps we can also begin to look at how strong communities can benefit us in other ways. At Tiko, the exploration of the concept of energy communities has been central to the company’s mission since its inception in 2012. Energy communities are built on the idea of connected, distributed and smart energy infrastructure. Enabling a link between local energy producers and consumers allows for the energy industry to move toward a system that inherently favors more flexibility, and ultimately facilitates a higher proportion of renewable energy.

The continued development of renewable energy technologies has resulted in a steady rise in rooftop solar installations in both urban and rural communities – with rural communities also having the potential for biogas installations and small wind turbines. While these systems already provide a great opportunity to reduce the carbon footprints of those installing them, the establishment of energy communities will allow entire regions to move toward a more sustainable energy model.

Connecting prosumers

Connecting distributed energy infrastructure allows those generating their own energy to become “prosumers” – capable of selling their energy back to those in the community and providing services such as balancing local energy grids. A prosumer model unlocks a new revenue stream for those debating installing a rooftop solar system, but more importantly it opens the door to a new community minded electricity system – more sustainable, resilient, and modern.

Energy communities make it possible for consumers to choose where they buy their energy from, to encourage local businesses and neighbors who then become energy producers, to contribute to their community – the same way we can choose where we buy our food from, and visit the local market. In the energy space, utilities become key enablers, helping consumers to become prosumers, and providing the marketplace.

Solar communities

Perhaps one of the biggest ripple effects from a shift to an energy community model would be the transformative effect it would have on the rooftop solar industry. Through the Covid-19 crisis we have seen residential solar take a hit, affected greatly by shutdowns, while utility-scale installations have continued at a rapid pace. As lockdowns continue to ease and rooftop installations pick back up, offering robust virtual power plant solutions can ensure these installations become part of a bigger vision. Ensuring homeowners and utilities can get the most value out of rooftop solar is the key to getting more panels on more rooftops – and energy communities can do just this.

While change in the energy sector has in the past been notoriously slow, a shift to an energy community model can be achieved relatively quickly. Tiko creates solutions for prosumers, companies, and utilities alike – meaning entire communities can be included in the energy system of the future. Offering both white-label solutions and integrated APIs, Tiko can help facilitate a rapid shift to a modern energy management system, through the use of software solutions and industry-leading hardware.

It is becoming increasingly clear that our understanding of what exactly community means, and how communities can be structured, will continue to develop through this unprecedented global event. It is important that we take this opportunity to build communities that can better connect our societies, making them more resilient and inclusive. Finding new ways to accelerate the energy transition is quickly becoming one of the most important tasks we face as a society; it is only fitting that one of the most promising solutions will see us once again coming together and embracing the idea of community.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own, and do not necessarily reflect those held by pv magazine.