In 2017 City Mine(d) started listening more carefully to stories about energy and electricity. Because, we smelled an opportunity: the old system of dirty and expensive electricity traveling great distances from production plant to user could not hold for much longer. The pressure of increasing demand for electricity and heightened awareness of its costs meant governments, industry, but also citizens started exploring alternatives. Maybe this was a change that could benefit those traditionally at the sharp end of the city.
We were brought up to speed on solar panels and sharing (electric) power by Energie Commune, and became all fired up by Christian Bansenga and his adventures in solar energy. Dreaming out loud of a mechanical battery, brought us in touch with residents of a social housing estate in downtown St Gilles. The block consists of 110 flats, housing predominantly vulnerable energy users. When their social housing agency Foyer du Sud considered putting solar panels on their roof, they raised their voice and claimed a stake.
When Foyer du Sud recognised the residents as actors in the project, they got together and organised (the bit we like most!). They chose the name SunSud and familiarised themselves with the physics (what is energy), economics (understand your electricity bill), but also with how to make fair decisions and govern a diverse group. At the start the law did not allow for citizens to organise as an energy community, so they obtained an exemption from regulator Brugel to test their pilot. They also convinced the Environment Minister to support their case. Even five pandemic waves could not tear the group apart. Because it is hard to see from the ground that their building is partly powered by the sun, SunSud even designed an info panel an took to a Fablab to make it themselves. Now, two years after launch, the test reveals more than environmental gain. Not to mention the fact that it gave power to act to those for whom it often is in short supply. And the press ? They loved it.