Energised communities: Simris and the Microgrid Solidarity Project

It all started with a bold idea: could a village be self-sufficient in energy? One of Sweden’s largest energy companies was keen to find out, and selected Simris as its experimental site in the late 2010s.

Just outside the Slow Coast’s largest settlement, Simrishamn, you will find its baby sibling, Simris. The quaint little town might look unassuming, but don’t let the brick houses and perfectly manicured hedges fool you—Simris is, or at least was, a major force in Swedish energy politics. 

Rush-hour in central Simris | Jorchr, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

It all started with a bold idea: could a village be self-sufficient in energy? One of Sweden’s largest energy companies was keen to find out, and selected Simris as its experimental site in the late 2010s, where the goal of self-sufficiency was achieved through a combination of solar, wind, and battery storage. The crowning glory was the AI-assisted “smart grid”, which could turn energy-intensive heat pumps on and off in response to changes in temperature and grid load, and divert electricity from batteries in peoples’ homes to nodes where demand was momentarily higher. Eventually, the village was able to supply all of its own electricity needs, and even sold back a fair amount to the regional grid on particularly sunny or windy days. Topped off with an electric car pool for the use of residents, Simris was by all accounts the techno-environmentalist’s wet dream. 

However, microgrids like that of Simris remained rare, due to the many legislative barriers that one faced when attempting to build one: grids that extended across property borders could only be owned and operated by a select few companies, thus forming regional monopolies, and there was also no financial incentive, due to the imposition of taxes on energy entering or exiting the grid. 

Due to years of immersing themselves in the technical and political minutia of microgrids, the residents of Simris found themselves in the role of evangelists for the microgrid gospel, which they intended to spread far and wide. Through intense lobbying, supported by dozens of other villages around the country which wished to follow in their footsteps, they eventually secured a change to Swedish energy legislation: any entity that passed the approval of the oversight committee could build and operate a grid, and furthermore, that entity would get a premium from the big electricity companies, in recognition of their provision of vital backup capacity that could stabilise regional grids in times of high demand and low supply. 

Emboldened by victory, Simris joined forces with other Slow Coasters to form the Microgrid Solidarity Project. Its aim was to initiate community-owned microgrids across the Slow coast to bolster the local economy while providing vital services to the electricity grid. In contrast to other localist energy ventures, the MSP was adamant that the excess be shared—though this was an easy sell, given it held out the prospect of what was essentially a passive income stream. 

Microgrids popped up in many villages soon after: Borrby, Löderup, Örum, Skillinge, Peppinge… soon the MSP was, quite literally, a force to be reckoned with, capable of negotiating favourable prices with the big energy companies. However, shortages in the raw materials required for solar, wind, and batteries proved the biggest barrier to microgrid expansion, and latecomers were disgruntled that early adopters such as Simris could reap the benefits while they had to settle for high electricity costs. Much to their credit, during the hard years of the 2030s MSP villages donated battery packs to nearby villages and opened up their own grids in order to ensure that energy-poor neighbours could at least charge their heat-clothes in the winter; tales of such generous acts, however inflated in the telling they may have become, did a lot to valorise the microgrid approach in later years.

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