Opinion - 06/October/2022

Communities must be at the heart of the energy transition

All levels of government have a role to play in helping communities manage their energy transition, says Carsten Rothballer at ICLEI

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of FORESIGHT Climate & Energy


Communication key in supporting local communities

The energy transition is no longer a concept to debate or consider. It is an urgent requirement that communities across the world are implementing. While energy-related legislation and guidelines at national and international levels are undoubtedly needed, action in cities and sub-national regions demonstrate that there is so much that can also be done and led by communities.

Communities are keen and able to herald in energy transition: from coal regions whose workforces and communities want to be actively leading a just transition, to urban dwellers setting up renewable energy communities (RECs). It is the role of networks, researchers and experts to support communities in this work.

Local authorities are in the perfect position to support their citizens to lead this transition, but they need support.

They can, for example: prepare their communities for upcoming shifts in energy sources and systems; provide resources and education to support more energy efficient and sufficient behaviour; and can advocate for and implement regulations that support solutions like RECs, which are often seen as at-odds with traditional, embedded energy systems.

However, communication plans are often underdeveloped in communities, including in coal regions in transition. This makes it even more important to engage with stakeholders and citizens to broaden awareness, acceptance, and activate transformative actions.

Participatory processes have to be set-up to achieve political, technical and  social approval at the local and higher levels. This will democratise energy transition processes.



One pillar of this support work is assistance to coal and carbon-intensive regions.

This must span technical assistance tailored to specific coal and carbon-intensive regions; exchange programmes to forge community and knowledge-exchange amongst regions; facilitating open communication between coal+ regions and higher-level policy makers; and sharing knowledge like toolkits, case studies and webinars that are widely accessible and useful.

In addition, we must help amplify the voices of coal regions, creating a narrative log of their journeys and providing them with the opportunity to directly express their challenges, needs and success stories. Coal and carbon-intensive regions are on the front lines and must therefore also hold the megaphone.




The above represents crucial work to herald in just transition on the supply side. What about the demand side?

Energy impacts so many facets of our lives and the systems that we rely on, including housing, building stock, heating and cooling systems, transport, food systems and more.

We need specific, concrete changes at the EU-level to help communities adopt more sustainable energy behaviour. For instance, the EC could provide succinct guidelines with clear definitions, targets, monitoring systems, and administrative procedures for RECs. It should also incentivise models for electricity and thermal energy sharing and investment in prosumer technologies.

Meanwhile, there needs to be an internal market for energy storage that privileges energy efficiency and renewable energy services instead of gas or other fossil fuels plus binding (not indicative) targets for increasing renewables in heating and cooling, and for district heating and cooling.

In addition to advocating at higher levels, we must directly help local authorities and communities to consume energy more efficiently—in other words, we must build energy-responsible communities.



Whether considering energy- (and fossil fuel-) producing regions, or any facet of energy consumption, communities must be at the heart of energy transition.

We need EU-level regulations that make it easier for communities to produce and consume sustainable energy and direct support from all levels of government to the most vulnerable community members, including those who are subject to losing their jobs in energy transition.•


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