REC in Schnifis
Schnifis, a picturesque municipality located in the Austrian federal state of Vorarlberg, has a population of 789 residents (Jan. 2023). What sets Schnifis apart is that over 90% of its land is dedicated to agriculture, forestry, or alpine pasture.
The renewable energy community in Schnifis stands as a remarkable case in Austria's renewable energy landscape. Pioneering the way, Schnifis was among the first energy communities to be established in the country.
Legal foundation: At the outset of Schnifis' journey towards establishing an energy community, a range of legal frameworks were explored. In 2021, Schnifis achieved official status as an energy community, with the municipality itself serving as the legal entity. This achievement marked a significant milestone, particularly considering its pioneering prototype status within the context of energy communities in Austria. However, evolving regulations dictated that energy communities must establish their own legal personality, often through entities such as associations or cooperatives – thus a municipality itself cannot be the legal entity. Hence, Schnifis remains the sole energy community in Austria with the municipality itself serving as its legal entity, a distinction that endures to this day.
Despite the unconventional approach, this prototype developed into an outstanding example, providing a best-practice model for other citizen-driven projects.
Technical implementation: Prior to the availability of data exchange services for energy communities in Austria through the EDA platform (https://www.eda.at/?lang=en, see below), Schnifis relied on commercial software connected via a wireless network to share real-time data on energy consumption and production by its members. This innovative approach allowed the initial energy community prototype to commence its theoretical operations – despite the absence of actual financial transactions – and offered a robust testing environment well before the relevant laws were fully enforced.
This prototype showcased how small, locally organized, and circular energy communities could contribute to energy autonomy. It brought together around 30 households, the alpine dairy, municipal buildings, and a biogas plant to form a renewable energy community. The alpine dairy obtained its electricity from both its own citizen-financed PV plant and the energy community. The biogas plant acted as a backup for times when the PV plants couldn't produce enough power, such as during inclement weather or at night, thus ensuring that agriculture not only supplied milk for cheese but also the electricity to produce it.
In 2021, Schnifis received the Energy Globe in the special category “Sustainable Community” as the first energy community for renewable energy in Austria.
With the establishment of a legal framework for energy communities in Austria, energy communities have to officially register and exchange data with all relevant stakeholders through the EDA platform. In 2021 Schnifis did so and officially registered six metering points (municipality buildings) for testing purposes. But still, the municipality of Schnifis is officially registered as a regional renewable energy community, even though the necessary independent legal entity has not yet been established—a unique case in Austria.
The energy crisis led to substantial public funding in the form of feed-in tariffs (reaching a maximum of 52 c/kWh in Q4 2022) and electricity subsidies for households. This combination briefly resulted in financial losses for energy community members in Austria. Consequently, Schnifis temporarily paused further expansion plans. However, in October 2023, the municipality decided to establish an association as legal entity for the energy community and resume expansion plans. Initially, the energy community will include commercial companies as members, as membership for households still leads to financial losses due to ongoing electricity subsidies.
Schnifis' medium-term plans are based on an eco-social strategy, including agro-ecological measures of the biogas plant and the dairy processing plant and the reinvestment of energy community profits in renewable energy initiatives. By 2025, an additional 500 kWp of PV modules will be installed on the roof of the existing biogas plant through a community participation process that is currently underway.
Support within SHAREs Project
Schnifis, being one of the pioneering energy communities in Austria, contributes to the SHAREs project by sharing its knowledge and experience in various meetings. Schnifis has also assisted other project pilots by offering first-hand experience through a mentoring scheme, helping them to overcome initial challenges in setting up energy communities. In return, Schnifis benefits from the resources and materials provided within SHAREs, offering valuable feedback to enhance their usability.
“From the outset, I was attracted by the combination of economy, technology and environmental protection. On the one hand, the energy community enables us to drive forward the expansion of renewable energies and CO2 reduction and, on the other hand, we are equipped to counteract the unpredictable market fluctuations. All in all, we will become more independent, more resilient and more ecological as a community.”
- Simon Lins, mayor of Schnifis
|Used energy generation technologies / implemented energy efficiency measures
|Biogas plant, PV-plants
|500.000 kWh / year
|Number of members
|Regional renewable energy community
|Activities in the energy community
|Several meetings to foster knowledge transfer, among those a meeting within the mentoring scheme of SHAREs to help the upcoming energy community