CFOAT: Empowering the Aran Islands rural community with DATA CELLAR


Comharchumann Fuinnimh Oileáin Árann (The Aran Islands Energy Co-op) is a community-owned energy cooperative on the Aran Islands at the mouth of Galway (Ireland). They were established as a non-profit cooperative in 2012, and only residents and businesses located on the islands can become full members with voting rights.

The Aran Islands are three islands in the Atlantic about 20km off the west coast of Irland with a combined population of about 1,347 inhabitants. The three islands (Árainn/Inis Mór, Inis Meáin, and Inis Oírr) are some of the few remaining places where the Irish language is still spoken daily.

There is a long history of self-sufficiency on the islands and islanders have had to be resourceful to make a living. The weather plays a big role in everyday life, and, while the islands rarely remain cut off, storms can cause breakdowns in electricity supply and in supplies getting to the piers, especially on the two smaller islands. Water shortages have been an ongoing problem in Inis Oírr, and there are no natural fuel sources, so all fuel has to be imported from the mainland.

This island’s sense of self-sufficiency was one of the drivers for establishing of The Aran Islands Energy Co-op. It is unique in some ways as it is totally community-owned, it is non-profit, and there is a one person one share policy, therefore there are no majority shareholders. Representing all three islands, membership is open to island residents and businesses at a cost of 100€ for life.

The Aran Islanders are known for their self-sufficiency, resilience, and ability to survive; and, in order to support them, CFOAT has defined some key objectives:

  • To achieve future energy and economic security of the Islands.
  • To stabilise and sustainably increase the population on the three islands.
  • To maintain the language, culture, and heritage of the three islands.
  • To be sensitive to the beauty and richness of the natural environment.
  • To increase comfort, energy efficiency, and sustainability for homes and transport.
  • To promote the three islands as lighthouse communities, offering inspiration, support, and examples of best practice, to other communities in Ireland and throughout the world.

Moreover, to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels and decrease their carbon footprint, they have adopted an approach of retrofitting of older housing stock, electrification of transport and heat, and generation of renewable energy.

CFOAT has been working on these areas, achieving 50% of housing stock having had retrofitting work, 10% of cars on the islands are electric, 70 buildings have photovoltaic panels, and 50 buildings have heat pumps. Additionally, the cooperative secured a grid connection in 2022 to produce electricity using a community wind turbine, even though securing planning permission is a challenge owing to the islands’ special status.

Also, they were one of the initial 6 pilot islands (with islands in Spain, Croatia, Italy, Greece, and Portugal) that signed up to the transition agenda for Clean Energy for EU islands in 2019.

Which is the role of CFOAT in DATA CELLAR?

Within DATA CELLAR, CFOAT plays a pivotal role as an energy community, representing a strategic planning function. As an indicator of sustainability in the Aran Islands, CFOAT contributes valuable insights and data that are crucial for the project’s objectives. The cooperative offers pertinent information for the peer-to-peer trading, energy storage, and network management. CFOAT’s involvement highlights the significance of community-driven initiatives in advancing clean energy solutions and fostering flexibility in rural environments.

Why is CFOAT important for the DATA CELLAR project?

As a rural island community, Aran Islands Energy Co-op is in a position to act as a testbed for innovative approaches and technologies to be tested in real life. The cooperative has successfully participated in five European and nationally funded R&D projects to date, piloting and trailing new technologies and infrastructure on the Aran Islands in areas such as Demand-Response, Smart Grids, and Virtual Power Plants.

Local homes and businesses led by CFOAT have actively engaged in these projects, offering valuable stakeholder insights to the technology developers. Having participated in these projects, householders have valuable data that could be shared with DATA CELLAR with their permission providing important information to help support the development and management of other local energy communities in the EU.


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