Viewpoint: It’s time to spread the benefits of community energy …

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Viewpoint: It’s time to spread the benefits of community energy …

Local energy schemes: how can we get more of them in low-income areas?

Harriet Sansom, Centre for Sustainable Energy, 14th June 2016

It’s time to spread the benefits of community energy …

Most community energy projects happen in more affluent areas. This means that the benefits of local energy schemes – a solar installation on a village hall, say, or a collective buying initiative – are less widespread than they ought to be.That’s not to say that there is no community energy activity in low-income neighbourhoods – see below for some great examples. But there could be more, and this project aimed to hear the stories of existing community renewable energy projects in poorer areas in order to improve our understanding of what is required to instigate and sustain such projects and from this to develop appropriate policy and practice recommendations.This research was funded by a grant from the Barrow Cadbury Trust.

The findings and recommendations – relevant for local authorities and devolved administrations, community organisations, the community energy sector, national government and funders – are published in a report.

Download the report.
Download a 2-page executive summary.

CSE’s Harriet Sansom led the project. “We’ve been conscious for some time that most community energy projects emerge in more affluent areas. This means that the economic, social and health benefits that these projects bring aren’t as widely shared as they might be.

“We think there is huge untapped potential for more community-based energy projects in low-income areas,” says Harriet. “So understanding the approaches needed to support this change is critical.”

The project began by gathering information, firstly by conducting in-depth interviews with spokepeople from 11 community projects in poorer neighbourhoods. These interviews covered project history, how projects built momentum and overcame barriers, the role of community in projects, key partners and critical success factors.

The groups interviewed included the following: Repowering LondonPlymouth Energy CommunityAmbition Lawrence WestonGen CommunityAwel Aman TaweTower PowerHartlepowerLivewire Community EnergyScotswood Sustainable EnergyMeadows Ozone Energy Services (MOZES)Witton Lodge Community Association.

After initial analysis of interview findings, interviewees were invited to a roundtable event to discuss our findings and ground them in practical policy recommendations. Additional representatives from the community energy sector, local and national government, funding bodies, and the community development sector were also invited to attend the roundtable event.

“What we found was that community energy projects in low-income areas seldom emerge directly from the grassroots – that is from groups of individual residents coming together to build a project based on shared concerns,” explained Harriet. “Instead, intermediary organisations – often very locally based and with a broad community development focus – provide the catalyst for energy activity across the wider community. So bringing the potential benefits of community energy projects to the attention of existing community development and regeneration charities should be a key aim if we want to see community energy become more mainstream.”

The report and recommendations can be downloaded here. But if you’re short of time, this (very) condensed list is a useful summary!

  • Community energy projects bring multiple benefits.
  • Existing community organisations are critical.
  • Businesses and energy agencies = important partners.
  • Local authorities = catalysts for action.
  • Successful projects take time and money. But many low-income communities don’t have this.
  • Supportive, long-term policy is critical.

You can also see Harriet discussing the findings of the report on this video:

This post is reprinted with kind permission of the Centre for Sustainable Energy: 

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