In a world were an increasing number of activities is digitalized, consumer-oriented, and with a scale of social inequity that is more imminent every year, decarbonization is just one of the three problems that the energy sector needs to face. The first one, ensuring a stable and reliable energy supply; the second, making sure that such supply is accessible from everybody, avoiding situations of energy poverty; finally, the sustainability challenge: drastically reduce the emissions of the sector contributing to reverse the global warming trend.
The international and supranational tools that deal with this challenges are numerous, and provide very diverse approached mainly aiming at winning the sustainability challenge in the long term. The European Union has tackled the energy issue quite strongly, starting from the Strategy for the Energy Union enacted by the European Commission in 2015 and subsequently translated in the package Clean Energy for All Europeans in 2016. The European Commission has also stated that through these tools the intention in to make the EU "guide the energy transition rather than adapt to it".
The mentioned package brings for the first time the user at the center, redefining them as an active part in the process. It also introduces formally in the the European Legal system the possibility to build the so-called energy communities.
Though these still constitute means of participation to the energy production system for public or private actors, the energy communities are defined by the EU legislation in two different forms: on one hand the Citizens Energy Communities (CEC), that can be based on both renewable and fossil fuels and accept as a member any legal entity (including big-sized companies), on the other hand the Renewable Energy Communities (REC) that are formed in areas close to a renewable energy installation belonging to the members of the community and that accept citizens, associations, small and medium local commercial enterprises, and local authorities. Formally these are legal entities that while carrying out an economical activity, have as a main scope the production of economical, social and environmental benefits for the community and area they operate in through energy self-consumption.
While the REC have been introduced in the Renewable Energy Directive II, (EU) 2018/2001 and the CEC in the Internal Electricity Market Directive II,
(EU) 2019/944, collective organizations for the production and consumption of energy have in fact existed for over a century in Italy and in Europe. For example in 1921 in the Val di Funes, in Alto Adige,
a society was created with the objective of using hydroelectricity to ensure a proper supply for its members' consumption. Countries like Germany and Denmark have been pioneers in the creation of cooperative ans social enterprises with similar purposes, and still today these territories have a higher number of communities than other European countries.
In the EU territory, we can count more that 3500 so-called energy cooperatives, which represent one of the many different forms that energy communities can take. This confirms that they are convenient from an economic and social perspective: not only they allow to save on the electricity bills, but they put in motion very positive practices for social innovation and consumers' empowerment, since consumers can participate in such communities even if they do not have a high income or access to significant capital. Moreover, the REC are indicated by the EU report as one of the most effective tools to fight energy poverty of marginalized groups.
The benefits connected to the participation in an energy community have been measured by the Joint Research Centre
of the European Commission in a policy report released in 2019. These are mainly linked to the possibility to participate in decisions regarding the investments on the installation and its co-ownership, economic benefits, social cohesion. It was even attested that there is a perceived life style improvement, possibly linked to an increased sensitivity to environmental issues.
Source: Joint Research Centre (JRC) of the European Commission, 2019 policy report on energy communities based on 24 case studies in the EU territory
In Italy, a regulation regarding the REC has been introduced by the so-called decreto Milleproproghe for 2020 and the resolution approved by the Authority for the Regulations of Energy, Grids and Environment (Autorità di Regolazione per Energia, Reti ed Ambiente (ARERA)). As of today there are already dozens of documented experiences of renewable energy communities in Italy: from Pinerolo in Piedmont to Roseto Valfortore in Apulia, there are communities that use different sources (e in some cases circular, like the energy produced from the treatment of organic waste) and various tools that spam from nanogrid to smart meters, with the objective of releasing pressure from the grids and ensuring safety and accessibility to the supply.
One question that remains open is the distinction between renewable communities and citizens communities, as it is defined in some European instruments. It would seem preferable, in the implementation in Italy of the 2016 package guideline, to create one single model that integrates positive aspects from the two existing ones and aim at simplifying the related procedures.
According to a study conducted by the Politecnico di Milano, the Italian territory has potential to host up to 500k renewable energy communities: even if only a 15% of these would be realized there could be an overall saving in electricity expenditures of 6 billion euro per year, a decrease in CO2 emissions up to 11 tons per year, and additional benefits would be in the management of the national electricity grid. 
The energy transition is therefore already happening, all that remains to do is decide whether there is a willingness to reluctantly adapt to it or to guide it in a direction that can be really innovative only if it is also inclusive and, as a result, fair.
 Comunicato stampa Commissione Europea 30/11/2016. https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/it/IP_16_4009.
 Tavazzi, Lorenzo. ‘Lo sviluppo delle Energy Community in Italia e le implicazioni strategiche per il Sistema Paese’. The European House Ambrosetti (blog), 27 June 2016. https://www.ambrosetti.eu/whats-hot/citta-e-territori/lo-sviluppo-delle-energy-community-in-italia/.
Translated by: Elena Briasco