Power for the people – A review of community energy

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A decade ago the idea of locally owned, community organisations generating their own renewable heat and power, seemed like an idealistic pipe dream. Today community energy groups now generate enough capacity to power 130,000 homes, from a collective capacity of 188 megawatts (MW). These latest figures come from Community Energy State of The Sector Report, recently published by Community Energy England.

This seismic shift in the way our energy is generated, potentially threatens the power of the big six energy companies. The success of community energy is, in part, down to the efforts of small groups of inspired individuals. By forming community energy groups these individuals then proceed to take control of energy provision, by owning and operating infrastructure used to generate their energy.

The benefits to the community are many. Not only do these projects reduce CO2 emissions by focusing on renewables, they can also benefit from; combating fuel poverty, greater energy security, local job creation and improved community cohesion. In many cases the communities use a proportion of the profits they generate to plough back into projects that enhance community life.

Community Energy In Action

There are a number of community energy types. The most common is roof mounted solar, on community or local authority owned buildings such as schools and village halls. In some cases larger ground mounted solar farms are set up, however these are less frequent, due to the high investment costs.

Naturesave and Community Energy

Naturesave have been closely involved in community energy from the beginning. The concept sat well with the company ethos and has driven Naturesave to focus on not only insuring a large proportion of community energy groups, but also providing financial assistance through its registered charity, The Naturesave Trust. To date over 100 community energy groups have been provided with insurance and advice and over £250,000 in funding has been awarded in the form of grants and share purchases, to support this sector.

So what does the future hold

The challenge to decarbonise our energy system is significant. It is also one that requires effort on multiple fronts, especially if the UK is to meet its climate change targets. The 222 community energy organisations in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, identified in the Community Energy England report, are increasingly playing a key role in that effort.

This success within the community energy sector, is largely down to the drive and determination of those individuals who made the leap of setting up their own organisations. Many have had to develop innovative skills to turn their eco ideas into reality. Fortunately, they have not been alone, thanks to support from specialist, not for profit organisations like Regen, Community Energy England and Community Energy Wales. There is also an excellent range of specialist advisory and funding organistions such as Bright Renewables, Ethex, Energy4All, Share Energy, Pure Leapfrog and green bank Triodos.

It must also be said that the Government has also played its part in the success of Community Energy. Unfortunately however, recent policy changes are now putting this vital sector under threat. Government cuts to tax relief, together with the reduction of “feed-in tariff” subsidies and closure of various support initiatives potentially threatens the financial viability of typical community energy schemes. This comes at a time when the UK is looking unlikely to meet its target of getting 15 per cent of all energy from renewables by 2020.

Despite the latest funding issues, the community energy sector currently appears quite resilient, with insurance enquiries and funding support enquiries at Naturesave still appearing strong, despite the changing market conditions.

If you are thinking about setting up a community renewable energy project, please check out Naturesave’s Community Renewable Energy Handy Tips Guide. For those wishing to seek financial assistance for their project, please refer to the Naturesave Trust Application form