Coopérnico – renewable energy-driven cooperative

Coopérnico represents the first energy cooperative in Portugal, founded in 2013, dedicated to sustainable development and to the selling of renewable electricity – counting with a large membership base that comprises thousands of citizens, small & medium enterprises, and municipalities.

At its core, Coopérnico functions as both a cooperative and a social enterprise, actively encouraging citizen participation in the transition toward a new environmental, social, and economic paradigm. Here, customers double as company owners, emphasizing a shared commitment to clean energy. The cooperative champions collective investments in renewable energy projects, fostering a culture of shared benefits that extend to its members, investors, the broader society, and the environment.

In essence, Coopérnico’s mission centers on engaging its members in the transformation of the energy sector into one that is more sustainable, renewable, socially equitable, and collaborative. To achieve this vision, Coopérnico pursues two key avenues:

i) A Manifesto, outlining the cooperative’s primary strategies and measures to fulfill its mission.

ii) A Director Plan, a comprehensive four-year strategic blueprint detailing the cooperative’s planned activities.

In terms of national policies and programs influencing Coopérnico’s role in the energy transition, several pivotal legal frameworks in Portugal currently enable its operations:

• Decree-Law No.15/2022, enacted on January 14, 2022, marks the transposition of the Electricity Markets Directive concerning Citizen Energy Communities (CECs).

• Decree-Law 162/2019, issued on October 25, 2019, along with Regulation 266/2020, enacted on March 20, 2020, have undergone recent revisions, notably under Regulation 373/2021, established on May 5, 2021. These changes reflect the transposition of concepts related to collective self-consumption schemes and Renewable Energy Communities, all of which play pivotal roles in Coopérnico’s journey toward a sustainable energy future.

Coopérnico works to increase the number of citizens engaged in the decarbonized society

Coopérnico works with renewable electricity production, commercialization, and energy services. The cooperative has successfully financed multiple collective solar power projects, and in 2019 it became an independent electricity retailer for its members. It organizes informative sessions to talk about energy efficiency practices, participates in EU-wide R&D projects, and actively supports the creation of local energy community projects and lobbying at the national level to promote the view of citizens in the transposition of European directives.

Coopérnico’s members are generally well-informed in matters linked to sustainability, energy efficiency, and renewable energy in particular, and they already take an active citizenship approach. Coopérnico’s vision is to gradually increase the number of citizens engaged in a more decarbonized and socially just society. To achieve this, it relies on spillover and network effects stemming from its growing customer base, and on its national lobbying and community engagement activities.

Coopernico’s objectives for a renewable energy transition

Coopérnico presented a short-term strategic plan for achieving the cooperative objectives until 2023 in its original Manifesto and Director Plan. However, during the course of the GRETA project, Coopérnico stated mid- and long-term objectives for the cooperative (i.e., 2026-2030 and 2050, respectively), which focus on having 5MW of installed renewable capacity and 2,500 clients in the energy retail market by 2026, and 10MW of installed capacity by 2030.

For 2030, Coopérnico expects half of the councils in Portugal to have energy cooperatives for renewable self-production, along with them becoming energy retailers – all cooperatives working together and operating in energy markets to be able to be in a level playing field with private companies. Hence, the overarching idea is that renewable cooperatives can organize themselves into a federation of cooperatives. When there are many cooperatives at the territorial level, a second-degree cooperative is formed where cooperatives become first-degree cooperatives, instead of their members – as per the examples of CONFECOOP, CONFRAGI, etc.

By 2050 Coopérnico expects that the distribution network is once again in the hands of cooperatives or municipal companies (i.e., the non-profit sector of the economy).

We studied how to lead already active energy citizens to bolder community actions

Our objective was to explore the factors that encourage active energy citizens to escalate their involvement in community efforts toward a cleaner energy transition, potentially reaching an activism-like level of engagement (advocacy). To do this, we examined various structural and dynamic factors that influence these processes. These factors included cognitive and attitudinal predispositions, norms, and the capacity to participate in the clean energy transition. Additionally, we analyzed how different stakeholders in the clean energy transition, such as the cooperative, its members, the government, regulatory bodies, and cleantech suppliers, interacted with one another. This analysis also led to discussions on the implications for policies. Cleanwatts led this case study.

Our findings and conclusions

Cognitive and Attitudinal Predispositions: All stakeholders involved aspire to facilitate a citizen-centric clean energy transition within their capabilities. Moreover, they all share similar environmental and social objectives, including reducing environmental impact and carbon footprint and empowering citizens. When it comes to economic outcomes, the government views it primarily from a grid perspective, while all other actors perceive it from the citizens’ standpoint.

Challenges: Different actors face unique challenges in engaging with the clean energy transition. The cooperative and its members primarily grapple with operational challenges related to the cooperative itself. In contrast, the government and cleantech suppliers encounter challenges related to licensing processes and the pace at which enabling legal frameworks evolve.

Social Norms: Although citizens, cooperatives, and cleantech companies are intrinsically motivated to participate in a citizen-centric clean energy transition, they feel neglected and unsupported by the government and the Distribution System Operator (DSO) due to a lack of institutional support. Conversely, the government suggests that its collective approach to the clean energy transition often conflicts with individual interests from different stakeholders.

Agency to Engage: Most actors express the need for expertise in technical, financial, market operation, and legal matters, often seeking external assistance due to the absence of institutional support.

Relationships: Positive, mutually beneficial relationships exist between the cooperative (and its members) and cleantech businesses, as well as with local stakeholders like local associations, the local public administration, and energy agencies, along with academia. However, the legislator and the DSO have strained relationships with energy citizens and the cooperative.

From a policy development perspective, this study is essential in identifying the key shared needs among different stakeholders, including:

  • Establishing dedicated information agencies or desks at the governmental level to support citizens and companies in their clean energy transition efforts, such as aiding in the implementation of Renewable Energy Communities (RECs).
  • Simplifying licensing processes to expedite the transition.
  • Accelerating the transposition of citizen-centric European Directives to promote the clean energy transition.

Read more from our case study report


Lurian Klein
Innovation Developer, Cleanwatts

Join the community

Are you taking part in GRETA’s case studies? Join the GRETA Community on Facebook! In the community, you can share your experiences and best energy-related practises, learn from other community members, participate in the co-design of GRETA’s processes and keep up to date on our project news.

GRETA community facebook group