Collective self-consumption: promising operations … but not immediately

Collective self-consumption is on the rise in European countries where regulations have allowed, with a certain form of courage, the emergence of this energy-sharing scheme. Solutions providers, such as billing solutions providers, are very active and investors are interested.

We can understand why: the idea is attractive because it is part of several current trends: energy sharing, local generation of energy, the search for better profitability of PV installations …

But isn’t this bubbling activity the visible face of a less attractive iceberg?

First of all, the fragmentation of the energy infrastructure does not work in favor of the economic balance of these operations. The scale effects obtained on a metropolitan or regional level are not accessible with a group of 5 to 10 consumers. The cost of an invoice is much higher and an acceptable level of maintenance of the installations is out of budget …

This leads to the search for a break-even point and the pressure on regulators to increase the size of operations. Initially designed to be limited to a building (as for the German Mieterstrom model), they can be extended, depending on the country, to contiguous pieces of land, to a low-voltage cluster or to consumers located within an area of a given size.

The day-to-day management of a collective self-consumption operation is not trivial and requires a minimum of legal, financial and technical knowledge. This involves ensuring invoicing and collection of invoices on behalf of the consumer group but also managing unpaid debts, (frequent) disputes with or between members, management of production equipment failures, associated battles with repairers and insurance companies etc …

Volunteering quickly reaches its limits when problems multiply and become more complex. And delegated management has a significant cost which, on small operations, negates the possible economic benefit of local generation.

These operations call into question network pricing. A large part of the grid costs are linked to the power subscribed by the group of consumers and to the sizing of the resulting grid. Limiting the application of the grid fees to the only energy withdrawn from the network underestimates the insurance value of this network in the event of failure of local generation facilities. But charging a grid fee on energy produced on a roof and consumed locally does not make sense.

Network pricing must therefore evolve to take these evolutions into account, with, why not, the choice left to the consumer group of the level of insurance desired from the network. This reasoning is not new: the optimized sizing of back-up gensets to supply only essential uses in the event of an outage follows the same logic.

Beyond the operational issues, collective self-consumption upsets the players’ game.

In terms of supply, collective self-consumption schemes aim to increase local production of energy, an energy that escapes suppliers whose strategy is to sell fluid in the conventional way. They push certain suppliers to become an energy partner of their customer, by providing them with the type of energy they want, produced where and how they want, with associated services and possible financing.

In terms of network management, some models are very conservative (France, “praxis modells” in Switzerland) and do not change anything for DSOs. Others are akin to a form of network liberalization (RCP in Switzerland, Germany) and make DSOs all the more afraid because the regulations do not allow them to apply to manage these micro-networks.

As always, when we observe the defensive strategies of some actors, such as that of certain DSOs, the messages become radicalized and the alternative providers promise a sometimes very exaggerated reality.

Today, collective self-consumption operations make it possible to increase the commitment and involvement of consumers or producers in the energy transition. As such, they have a pioneering or militant dimension. Several years will still be needed before achieving a regulatory and economic balance that meets the hopes raised by these operations. It is up to regulators to decide how many!

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