Coopérnico was founded in 2013, with the aim of harnessing solar power for the benefit of local communities. It now has 1772 members, investments of €1.8 million, and 1179 contracts. Coopérnico rents roof-space for its PV panels from socially-minded institutions, providing them with extra income. Here we talk to one of its founders, Filipe Moreira Alves, a social entrepreneur, and researcher.
Who was/is involved?
An entrepreneur Nuno Brito Jorge was the driving force. After working for many years in the biggest energy producer and distributor in Portugal, EDP, he wanted to start something on his own and cooperatively. He was very inspired by some of the other energy cooperatives in Europe. For me personally it started in 2013 with him coming to my office and challenging me to be one of the founding members and to put in the initial capital necessary. Nuno managed to get 16 amazing people from different corners of society to support the project – from NGOs, the private sector, researchers like myself, and other people. From there Coopérnico quickly evolved to 200 members in the first year-and-a-half and then 400 people before stabilizing. Then it won some awards and because of all the publicity more and more people joined, and now there are over 1700 members.
What motivated you?
I think for all of us there were three core ideas. The first one was to really have ownership of our energy production, instead of completely relying on big producers. It’s highly empowering! Maximizing the potential for solar energy in Portugal was another core motivation. The share of solar energy in the energy mix here is very, very small and that doesn’t make any kind of sense. I think the third one was really based on innovating and creating a different, social business model – that’s why we are a cooperative. That’s why we put our solar panels mostly in the social economy sector, on schools, on other cooperatives.
What inspired you?
We drew inspiration from energy cooperatives around Europe, in Spain and in France mostly, because in Portugal there were none. Coopérnico is the first energy cooperative in Portugal.
Who supported you? And how?
Initially the project started through our own financing. More recently we have been engaging with some European projects together with RESCoop, the European Federation of Energy Citizen Cooperatives, so we have some other sources.
What have you achieved?
We have shifted a lot. The number of our members have been increasing; the level of investment has been increasing, but also the awareness around these issues has been increasing. I think one of the indicators of the success of Coopernico is the rate and the speed at which we are able to finance the investments. Sometimes it takes a few minutes for an investment of €50,000 or €100,000 euros to be filled! That is one of the biggest achievements.
How has COVID-19 affected you?
I don’t think it did! The sun is still shining, we are still producing energy, people are still consuming electricity, new products are on the market, people are still investing their money.