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Background Information

Energy communities were established within a legal framework in Austria in 2019, with the passing of the “Renewable Energy Act” (No. 150/2021) (“Erneuerbaren-Ausbau-Gesetz”, short EAG), which is a direct translation of the European directive into Austrian law. Additionally, the “Complete Legislation for Electricity Markets and Organisation Law” (No. 110/2010)
Electricity Markets and Organisation Act No. 110/2010. Available at: https://www.ris.bka.gv.at/GeltendeFassung.wxe?Abfrage=Bundesnormen&Gesetzesnummer=20007045
(“Gesamte Rechtsvorschrift für Elektrizitätswirtschafts- und –organisationsgesetz”, short ElWOG), has established a clear definition of and framework for Citizen Energy Communities.
There are different types of energy communities in Austria:
Joint/Communal Energy Communities were established in 2017 within the Small Green Electricity Amendment (2017) (”kleinen Ökostrom-Novelle 2017“). Within a joint or communal energy community, several people can produce and use electricity together on the same property, using joint production infrastructure, such as PV-panels on an apartment building, to be shared among the complex’s residents.
Local Energy Communities are powered by the same transformer. Municipalities and SMEs are usually part of local energy communities. In the European context, these are Renewable Energy Communities (“Erneuerbare Energiegemeinschaft”). They are connected via a common transformer substation and collection point. Limited liability companies (“GmbHs”) may not participate in Renewable Energy Communities.
Nationwide Energy Communities are not geographically bound, but members must receive their energy from the same network operator. This model is popular among families that are dispersed within the country and want to share their electricity with each other. Additionally, people living within grid areas where no Renewable Energy Community has been established yet may opt to join or form a nationwide energy community. In the European context a nationwide energy community would be considered a Citizen Energy Community (“Bürgerenergiegemeinschaft”).
According to an interviewee, Austria currently has an estimated 100 Renewable Energy Communities and, according to the Coordination Office for Energy Communities’ energy community map (2022)
Austrian Coordination Office for Energy Communities (2022). Map and service provider list for energy communities. Available at:  https://energiegemeinschaften.gv.at/landkarte-und-dienstleister-liste-fuer-energiegemeinschaften/
, between three and ten Citizen Energy Communities (last updated April 29, 2022). These figures are estimates as Renewable Energy Communities and Citizen Energy Communities are obligated to register with their network operators, who must then pass on the information to E-Control (the government regulator for electricity and natural gas markets in Austria). Although these communities must disclose the information to E-Control, they are not obligated to register publicly with the Climate and Energy Fund, the main funding agency and initiator of the coordination office.
The substantial difference in numbers of Citizen Energy Communities and Renewable Energy Communities can be attributed to the hurdles associated with founding an energy community. For one, the founder needs sufficient legislative knowledge to establish a legal entity, as well as seed capital to provide the infrastructure. Citizen Energy Communities are also more complex to organise, as every member needs to have the same network operator, which may be difficult with the dispersion of citizens and Austria having more than 120 operators to choose from.
Most Renewable Energy Communities may also stem from a company’s interest in seeking financial gain and additional revenue by producing and selling energy itself. Additionally, they already have the legal know-how on how to establish a legal entity. Through our interviews we havenot been made aware of any large companies that are involved in energy communities yet, but an interviewee has registered interest by some.

Source of Energy

Most communities in Austria are producing their energy from solar panels, partly due to the advantage of not having to construct new infrastructure. There is potential for the integration of wind power and biomass in the future as soon as bigger actors participate who have sufficient capital to invest in such technologies.

Current Developments

In March 2022, Austria saw its first funding call for energy communities. According to an interviewee, most energy communities are still in the first operating phase of administrative establishment. Many energy communities plan to take on an advisory function for their members at a later stage. Current topics that are under discussion among energy communities are the handling of energy management, storage integration and aggregation services (energy communities storing electricity and providing services to the grid operator, such as reducing the load at peak hours).
Austria’s Energy
Oesterreichs energie (n.d). Oesterreichs energie. Available at: https://oesterreichsenergie.at/
(“Österreichs Energie”) is currently working on developing a roadmap that would make it possible for people to be part of several energy communities, which is to be implemented in 2023. As of 2023 it will most likely also be possible for Citizen Energy Communities to be operated by several network operators.
Currently, excess-produced energy is sold back to the network operator. Provided communities were to integrate more energy storage, they could actively store and strategically sell energy to interested parties in the future. Currently, 12,500 kWh may be sold by an individual producer without having to pay tax.
In accordance with the EAG, a cost-benefit analysis of the implementation of energy communities in Austria must be published by the end of the first quarter of 2024, which will be based on comprehensible data. It must provide information as to whether an appropriate and balanced participation of Renewable Energy Communities as well as Citizen Energy Communities is ensured at the system costs. In particular, this includes the costs for balancing energy, for which the regulatory authority may have to submit proposals for a user-based distribution.
The interplay between and the number of actors involved in energy communities in Austria is rather complex. Here we provide a definition of primary and secondary actors identified.

Primary Actors

  • The Austrian Ministry of Climate Action and Energy
    Austrian Ministry of Climate Action and Energy (n.d). Available at: https://www.bmk.gv.at/
    (“Bundesministerium für Klimaschutz, Umwelt, Energie, Mobilität, Innovation und Technologie”, short BMK) is the ministry responsible for implementing and translating EU-law into national legislation and passing regulations.
  • The Coordination Office for Energy Communities (“Koordinationsstelle Energie-gemeinschaften”) was established in May 2021. The office is a national actor providing information on a national level, acting as intermediary between energy community related stakeholders and energy advisory authorities of federal states with whom it works. It interacts with the Austrian Ministry of Climate Action and Energy, regulatory authorities, network operators, and anyone interested in learning more about energy communities. Additionally, the Coordination office sets up funding programmes for the establishment of energy communities and host events.
  • Anyone wanting to found or participate in an energy community must communicate their interest to the network operator who is responsible for billing the energy intake and production. The operator is also responsible for providing a costumer interested in joining an energy community with a smart meter. Austria currently has around 120 network operators.
  • E-Control
    E-Control (n.d). Available at : https://www.e-control.at/
    is the Austrian government’s regulatory authority for electricity and natural gas markets in Austria. It has control rights and publication obligations. Network operators need to report the data of energy communities to E-Control, who then checks whether they are acting in accordance with national law.

Background Actors

  • Energy Data Exchange
    Energy Data Echange (n.d). Available at: https://www.eda.at/
    (“Energiewirtschaftlicher Datenaustausch”, short EDA) started as a project in 2012 and became a corporation in 2020. Since 2022, EDA is a service provider commissioned by the network operators for the operation, hosting, and implementation of the energy data exchange. It is responsible for transmitting all energy-related data to the network operators. Every electricity producing unit of an energy community needs to be registered with EDA.
  • The Climate and Energy Fund
    Klima energie fonds (n.d), Welcome to the website of the Climate and Energy fund. Available at: https://www.klimafonds.gv.at/
    (Klima- und Energiefonds, short KLIEN) was set up in July 2007 by the Climate and Energy Fund Act (No. 40/2007). It supports modern technologies for a sustainable energy supply, innovative research projects and climate-friendly transport projects. Both the Climate and Energy fund and the Austrian Energy Agency
    Austrian energy agency (n.d).  We provide answers for a climate-neutral future. Available at: https://www.energyagency.at/
    (“Österreichische Energieagentur”, short AEA) also promote energy communities by hosting public events for interested parties. It is the founder and initiator of the Coordination office.
  • The Processing Center for Green Electricity
    OeMAG (n.d). news : Available at: https://www.oem-ag.at/de/home/
    (“Abwicklungsstelle für Ökostrom”, short OeMAG) was set up in 2006. It is a relevant actor in private energy production, as it purchases energy produced by private households.
  • Austria’s Energy (“Österreichs Energie”) is an interest group for the energy industry and an important actor operating in the background, advising its members on the development of new processes.

Models for Energy Communities & National Legal Framework

There are two main legislative sources for the definitions and rights of Renewable Energy Communities and Citizen Energy Communities. (1) the “Renewable Energy Act” (No 150/2021) (“Erneuerbaren-Ausbau-Gesetz”, short EAG), published in 2019, which, as previously stated, is the direct translation of EU regulation regarding energy communities into national law, and (2) the “Complete Legislation for Electricity Markets and Organization Law” (No. 110/2010)
Electricity Markets and Organisation Act No. 110/2010. Available at: https://www.ris.bka.gv.at/GeltendeFassung.wxe?Abfrage=Bundesnormen&Gesetzesnummer=20007045
(“Gesamte Rechtsvorschrift für Elektrizitätswirtschafts- und -Organisationsgesetz”, short ElWOG).
According to the EAG, a Renewable Energy Community may produce energy from renewable sources that consume, store, or sell self-generated energy. Furthermore, it may be active in the field of aggregation and provide other energy services.  A Renewable Energy Community must consist of two or more members or shareholders and be organised as an association, cooperative, partnership or corporation or similar association with legal personality. Its primary purpose may not be financial gain. In the case of private companies, participation must not be their main commercial or professional activity. The renewable energy community has a priority to bring environmental, economic or social community benefits to its members or the areas in which it operates (EAG § 79).
ElWOG defines Citizen Energy Communities as a legal entity that generates, consumes, stores, or sells electrical energy, is active in the field of aggregation or provides energy services to its members, and is controlled by members or shareholders (ElWOG §7, 6a). The supplier of a citizen energy community is a natural or legal person or incorporated partnership that produces electricity available to other natural or legal persons. If energy is made available to the members or the participating beneficiaries from a joint generation plant and within a Citizen Energy Community and a Renewable Energy Community it does not constitute supplier status (ElWOG §7, 45).
According to our interviews, most energy communities are either associations or cooperatives and larger corporations are not involved as yet. The difference between a cooperative (“Genossenschaft”) and an association (“Verein”) is defined in the Austrian cooperative law (No. 70/1873) (“Genossenschaftsgesetz”) and the association law (No. 66/2002) (“Vereinsgesetz”).
According to the cooperative law, a cooperative must have a general assembly, a board of directors and a supervisory board in the case of more than 40 members. The supervisory board is bound by law to regularly monitor the board of directors.
According to the Austrian Association Law, an association consists of people with common, idealistic goals. An association must not be profit-oriented. A general meeting must take place at least once every five years. Similar to a cooperative, it needs to establish a board of directors that notifies authorities at least 24 hours in advance of an association meeting, as well as an arbitration board for disputes. Financially strong clubs (>€1 million annual turnover) are required to keep a balance sheet.
The main difference between a cooperative and an association, is that the cooperative may be profit-based, while the association may only pursue idealistic goals.
Most energy communities that were established as associations do not own any infrastructure, they tend to lease infrastructure, or combine members’ facilities. On the other hand, energy communities that are run by large cooperatives often own their infrastructure. Ownership and leasing models both have advantages and disadvantages. According to our interviews, most energy communities are cooperatives.
Energy communities need to decide on a static or a dynamic billing model, which is then enforced by the network provider. In a static model, the energy produced within the community is distributed in equal amounts among its members, while in a dynamic model, the distribution is adapted to the energy consumption of each user. Most energy communities sell their energy at a fixed cost with occasional adjustments.
In 2015, inspired by other US companies, eFriends
eFriends (n.d). Austria Shares Green Electricity. Available at: https://www.efriends.at/
was founded before the existence of energy communities in Austria.
The difference between eFriends and conventional energy communities is that the operation of an energy community may not be the main source of income of a company, which it is in the case of eFriends. It also acts as the energy supplier, which is why, from a legal standpoint, it cannot be considered a citizen energy community.
Its customers can obtain energy from other participants at any time and need to register by simply filling out a form. In traditional energy communities the process is a lot more difficult, as customers first need to receive and register their smart meter from their network provider. eFriends members who produce energy can set the price at which they would like to sell their energy, or give it away free of charge to friends and family. Other members can choose from whom they would like to buy their energy. Everything is conducted through an app and eFriends takes over billing and calculations of energy intake and output.
eFriends also leases rooftops for the community. The PVs that eFriends builds on the leased roof belong to the owner after a set amount of time, depending on the contract. The disadvantage of their model is that eFriends only covers about 60% of the electricity needs. The remaining 40% must be purchased from someone else. eFriends also acts as a service provider for energy communities and operates six of them in Austria.
The company is an interesting example as eFriends is an energy sharing community acting outside of the European or national energy community-specific legislation.
ourPower (n.d), About us. Available at: https://www.ourpower.coop/
is a cooperative that owns more than 250 power plants, producing 60% of its electricity from PV, 20% from wind, and 20% from hydropower. It operates two joint/communal energy communities and one Citizen Energy Community that it has not registered yet.
They want to lease roofs, but the PV then belongs to the energy communities. After 10 years, the plant belongs to the tenant.
Grätzl Energie
Grätzl Energie (n.d). Become part of the energy transition. Available at: https://www.graetzlenergie.wien/
is a Renewable Energy Community in Vienna run by the energy service provider Power. Grätzl Energie mostly operates within one district of Vienna, as in the case within all Renewable Energy Communities in Austria, there is a certain proximity criterion due to the reliance on a common substation. Grätzl Energie offers similar leasing models to those of OurPower.
What became apparent in talking with Renewable Energy Communities is that most were cooperatives run or owned by another company. The descriptions of each of the examples are rather brief, as their business models are quite similar, and they are bound by proximity.
Most Citizen Energy Communities are run within a family or a small group. In an interview we conducted with a founder of such a family run Citizen Energy Community, the interviewee stated that the purpose of founding the community was simply to share the electricity, which the family produces from their PV with their children, living in another state. The family did not want to include anyone from outside the family within their community. This is in line with what other interview partners have said about the current purpose of Citizen Energy Communities.

Drivers and Benefits

Renewable Energy Communities and Citizen Energy Communities have different advantages under current legislation.
Renewable Energy Communities (RECs) currently offer financial incentives such as discounts from network tariffs for regional use and can receive subsidies from a variety of funding programs. Furthermore, corporate actors benefit from the opportunity to participate and profit from the energy market, adding a new source of revenue to their business model.
Citizen Energy Communities (CECs) havethe advantage of more actors being able to participate than in Renewable Energy Communities, as they are not bound to a single substation, and limited liability companies (“GmbHs”) may participate. In the future Citizen Energy Communities may play a big role in the energy transition, especially once bigger corporations decide to invest and become active.
Energy communities combat energy poverty, providing members with less expensive energy and allowing them to contribute to the energy transition without having to purchase necessary infrastructure, such as PV panels.
Though network providers currently kind of pose a barrier to the expansion of energy communities, they may be useful to them in the future, as energy communities reduce the energy load and stabilize the grid, thereby potentially lowering the necessity for grid expansion.
Heat production has not been employed in energy community models in Austria yet. According to an interviewee, the integration of heat production could be an important next step. Renewable heat can come from local heating and an energy community’s PV infrastructure could be connected to heating infrastructure.
Austria is currently experiencing increasing resistance from its population when it comes to the construction of hydropower and wind power plants. People are less opposed to being involved and more understanding when being part of the implementation and decisionmaking process by joining an energy community. Energy communities also increase people’s awareness of where their electricity comes from.
A social aspect of energy communities is that people get to know their neighbours and develop a feeling for regionality, by becoming a part of a community.
At a larger scale, interviewees have regarded energy communities ascontributing to raising awareness of climate change. By promoting on-site production, they can contribute to the independence from fossil fuels and foster cross-sectoral energy use and storage. Economically, energy communities increase energy autarchy and lessen the national dependence on energy imports.

Legal and practical barriers

Network Operators

One of the main barriers for energy communities is the dependence on the network operator, as there are more than 120 in total and within a Renewable Energy Community all members must be registered with the same operator.
A legal burden is the calculation of energy balance, which is the responsibility of the energy community itself. Should there be any errors or miscalculations in the energy balance, this may have serious legal consequences, especially considering that most energy communities are either cooperatives or associations, meaning they are fully liable.
According to an interviewee, the balance data reported by the network provider is not accurate as the provider has little interest in making this service available to its customers.
It has been repeatedly stated that the biggest issues for the network operators themselves is the IT-infrastructure for calculating and balancing energy intake and output. This is an issue that, according to some interviewees should be dealt with within the next five years.

Legal Classification

The current legal definition of an energy community that prohibits financial profit being an energy community’s main purpose, creates confusion among actors regarding what an energy community is and is not allowed to do.
A legal barrier is the necessity of establishing a legal entity. Though there are a plethora of associations in Austria, tax declarations and other obligations associated with operating a legal entity deter many from founding an energy community. Furthermore, an association, the legal entity entailing the least funding cost, is fully liable for any errors incurred in billing and balancing outgoing and incoming energy. As previously mentioned, the network operators’ calculations received by an association may be inaccurate, thus the association may bear charges for having billed incorrectly.
Forming a cooperative is more cost intensive. According to interviews, the cost associated with founding a cooperative energy community is high (>€10.000) and hardly feasible for a small group of people.

Smart Meters

Technically, the rollout of smart meters in Austria and the digitalisation of the grid is still lagging. Network operators may also act as barriers in some instances as they currently do not provide sufficient information to customers when looking to join an energy community (e.g., ‘which transformer am I connected to?’), making the processes more complicated. Thankfully, more and more network operators are making maps available to their customers, showing them how they are connected to the grid. Another barrier is that in general network operators currently lack incentive to provide services to people interested in joining an energy community in as it poses an administrative burden on them and creates additional competition. The network operator is obligated to provide its customer with a smart meter within two months of the initial request. In one instance an interviewee mentioned that their smart meter was only provided after the exact two-month deadline, as the operator lacked incentive to provide it any sooner. Energy community members must also register with a smart metering portal, for which they receive a user-specific account from their network provider. 
According to interviewees, most people are not willing to go through the process of signing up and registering a meter. eFriends, by evading this issue and providing its own service for energy calculations, provides an app, in which any user can monitor their energy intake and output without the user having to obtain any expert knowledge. Nevertheless, eFriends by conventional standard not considered an energy community. In order to make energy communities more popular, eFriends’ billing solution may serve as inspiration, in that either an external service provider would need to take care of all billing for energy communities, or legislation would need to adapt to make billing more convenient.

Energy Purchasing Prices

The Processing Center for Green Electricity (“Abwicklungsstelle für Ökostrom”, short OeMAG) poses a barrier for individuals producing their own electricity as it currently offers to purchase their electricity for €0,5/kW, which is generally more than what a producer would receive from providing energy to an energy community. Due to a rise in energy costs OeMAG’s tariffs are expected to go down in 2023.