Ecosystems and initiatives
Circular ecosystems and initiatives such as the REFLOW pilot projects are crucial to facilitate a systematic change towards the circular economy and to engage actors across whole value chains as well as research centers, governmental institutions, and civil society to use resources in the most efficient and regenerative way.
While this approach is needed in every sector of our economy, the circular economy policies currently mainly focus on consumer products such as electronics, vehicles, plastics, textiles, food as well as construction. The energy sector is rarely mentioned in the circular economy research and policies. One of the main reasons for this is the complexity and the nature of the energy as a material which is difficult to trace and quantify physically.
However, there is a great potential in combining both the circular economy solutions with energy transition. Energy and resource efficiency should become a focal point in the energy transition policies. Increasing energy efficiency of the whole energy system and applying circular principles to the renewable energy technologies throughout their entire life cycle. Unfortunately, on the EU level, the circular economy and energy transition policies are disconnected. The circular economy action plan only mentions energy efficiency when it comes to consumer products and construction.
While all energy legal acts such as Renewable Energy Directive, Energy Efficiency Directive, or Electricity market design Directive do not mention circular economy solutions. There is a very weak connection between the Circular Economy Action Plan and the Clean Energy for All European Package. Only the most recent EU Energy System Integration Strategy that is part of the Green Deal acknowledges the need for the creation of a more circular energy system. It mentions the following four main points for improvement: promotion of energy efficiency, reuse of waste heat from industrial sites, improvement of synergies between energy infrastructures, and incentives for the use of agriculture residues for biofuels production (European Commission, 2020).
In this context, of novelty in policy making and solution implementation across Europe and the world, Romania is aligning its policies and practices. In terms of circular economy, much of the activity has been focusing at civil society level with significant support in terms of policy commitments from the national and local authorities but still with the gap in concrete implementation frameworks and measures. Regarding the energy sector, the energy system in Romania is highly centralized, slow and innovation unfriendly. That was a challenge for our Cluj-Napoca Reflow Pilot. Since 2021 the global energy crisis dawning upon Europe and not only Europe and the liberalization of the energy market in Romania has added to the challenges.
In this context, the REFLOW CLUJ PILOT has proven as very ambitious and the good collaboration with the local authorities and their engagement in the development of the local circular ecosystem has allowed for significant steps in incorporating energy efficiency as a priority for the coming period at local and regional level and has allowed for a concrete example of systemic collaboration with the production and installment of the RETROFIT KIT, the discussion about alternative energy potential and the conceptualization of an Energy Tree as public utility installation. Yet significant steps are still to be taken in terms of measures to have transparency and ownership over green energy sources at user levels. With more policies that will incentivize more actors to cooperate and implement the circular economy principles in the whole energy sector, with more funding directed locally and allowing for infrastructure and expertise investments in green energy and circular economy energy solutions these challenges can be overcome and the implementation of the promises present in the strategies can take place.