Som Energia: The first Spanish renewable energy consumers’ cooperative

members assemblySom Energia (We are Energy) is a renewable energy consumers’ cooperative founded in 2011 in Barcelona, Catalonia that has engaged 20,000 members in less than 5 years – in the State of Catalonia and throughout Spain.

Even though the founders designed Som Energia as a local organization, many groups in Spain contacted them early on in order to learn about possible replication of the cooperative in their regions. Within Som Energia, core members realized that a more widespread system would be beneficial for the cooperative and they decided to expand Som Energia to be active throughout the entire Spanish territory. This expansion has been carried out thanks to different local groups, composed of hundreds of volunteers advised by a technical office and professional team located in Girona. The team based in Girona manages the production and commercialization of energy while also offering support to the local groups. This strong and successful structure works thanks to three tools that facilitate the participation and discussion at different levels: A social network called Plataforma, a summer school, and a general meeting of local groups.

The following comments from a member of Som Energia’s Management Board reveal why the cooperative has grown:

“I think that Som Energia was not conscious that it was filling a void. We realized afterwards. There was a void, a need for a constructive organization to gather all the people who feel one way or another that the model we live in is absolutely unsatisfactory. If you don´t have any alternative one can just complain. When Som Energia was born, people felt like “Wow, now I can do something else”, so that void is filled. And the interesting thing is that it was not detected, we realized only a posteriori. So when you think: “How is it possible that Som Energia has grown so fast?,” it is like when you water a very thirsty plant. Som Energia waters a society thirsty of finding alternatives. And this brings a very interesting political reflection, I think: We are told that people nowadays are individualistic, they only worry about their own issues, they are not interested in the collective, and so on. But these ideas are not proved. We might think that this is true, but we should contrast this idea with facts. If Som Energia gets created and it is so successful and there was so much necessity of it, this is because people are not so individualistic, not so lazy, not so ignorant… but maybe there is a general interest in keeping this idea in people’s minds, so we keep thinking that people don’t get mobilized for anything.”

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UAB comment:

One of TESS’ main research questions relates to the success factors of community-based initiatives. Researchers seek to analyze which external and internal factors facilitate or hinder initiative´s emergence and development. In this process, we are completing qualitative interviews with members of different community-based initiatives and with stakeholders who have had a direct or indirect influence on their trajectory. One of our key case studies in Barcelona is Som Energia.

Even though this research work about success factors for community initiatives is still in progress, answers from community members such as this Management Board member show that the disagreement and anger with the current socio-economic model is perceived as a success factor for initiatives proposing alternatives, while at the same time other structural and contextual factors present in deeply-engrained socio-cultural mentalities might hinder their development

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