‘In the past, there was a perception that making a greener choice was always a compromise, but now people can see that the technology is good and can fit in with their lifestyle. It's really going to take off. What's needed now is policy that recognises and grabs the opportunity.’
There have been a number of concerns raised recently about the
future of community energy - with
some local groups understandably worried about cuts to
Feed-in Tariff rates. However Graham Ayling, Head of Energy Saving
Trust Foundation, thinks its time is coming.
'There's no denying that the past year has been incredibly tough
for community energy groups who've put their heart and soul into
projects, only to have to go back to square one as government
policy changed. However, this is an incredibly resilient sector,
full of people determined to drive forward action on climate change
and bring about a fairer, more democratic energy sector. It isn't
about to roll-over and give up.
In the short-term, there's still a lot going on as many
community groups pre-registered for the Feed-in
Tariff (FiTs) so their projects should go ahead. For example,
there's a great project we've been involved with in Swansea, where
the council is setting up a community solar
PV scheme in some of its most deprived areas, with the aim
to directly benefit those wards. These schemes will make the sector
stronger, generating income for new community projects, as well
New models for green energy generation
There have been lots of projections saying solar PV will reach
grid parity in the next few years, and these economics could mean
solar no longer needs financial support to thrive. In the meantime,
there are plenty of options to explore for enterprising community
organisations and social enterprises. Ayling explained:
'Potentially, communities could choose to buy into existing
commercial installations such as wind and PV farms. Then there's
direct supply - selling electricity to the site where its
installed, at retail rather than wholesale price. This could be a
big opportunity for motivated local authorities and businesses to
buy into the most ethical energy out there, benefiting the
community as well as the environment.
We've also had a role in another interesting scheme in
Wales; the Welsh Government-supported Energy
Local pilot. This looks at using solar as a starting point for
local energy management and behaviour change, it's a step towards
peer-to-peer energy sales - selling the excess electricity you
generate to your neighbours. This really is making use of local
renewables in the local area and, if successful, could be a
Potential in storage
Energy storage is beginning to attract mainstream
"There's a pilot happening in the south west to install a large
solar PV system with battery storage. The great thing about that is
it's the start of a move towards self-sufficiency and tackling the
issue of intermittent supply that's often associated with solar,
while also helping to integrate with the grid.
It's quite difficult to tell exactly how fast things are going
to move on energy storage, but we hear that 20GW of storage
projects are already planned in the UK, and there are lots of
clever controls and software becoming available, to enable
operators to offer multiple energy services. It looks like industry
is ready to go.'
A shared interest with business
The Paris climate agreement may well change the game for
renewable partnerships and communities if they can find
mutually beneficial ways to work with businesses looking to make
big energy changes:
"You could imagine a situation where supermarkets or DIY chains
could host renewable installations and buy the electricity at a
rate that works for both them and, most importantly, the community.
Standard contracts for energy schemes along these lines could also
reduce legal costs for community groups."
Government support around Britain
Devolved administrations in Wales and Scotland still have
considerable appetite for the community energy sector:
"The Welsh and Scottish community energy programmes do have
capital budgets to help bridge the funding gap for community
projects, and we're working with those governments to try and get
the best outcomes. For example, we've recently been training
planners in Wales and are working to continually improve the advice
and funding available in both countries...with manifestos in the
recent elections in those countries promising a greater involvement
for communities in the energy supply side...it seems clear that
there is genuine commitment to making this work."
Thinking beyond renewables
Community energy is not just about solar panels on roofs - and
the Foundation is looking to further the work Energy Saving Trust
has been doing for many years with individuals and households.
"We're supporting the diversity of community projects, and that
of course includes energy efficiency. We're launching a community
version of our Home Energy Check to help communities
provide energy advice and track who they've advised and what
measures are needed. Groups will be able to use this to help them
better understand what energy efficiency measures are needed
locally and possibly even run schemes such as group buying. It
could also help them track the impact of their work."
The rise of green energy can't be stopped
The UK missed its target to generate 10 per cent of its
electricity from renewable sources in 2010, but, just 5 years later
in 2015 was up to nearly 25 per cent:
"It's incredible growth and a pattern that's being repeated
globally. This is the future. Look at solar PV - a few years ago
there was no financial payback, now it's on the verge of becoming
one of the cheapest ways to generate energy. Uptake has been way
beyond what anyone expected, because it's a popular technology.
This isn't going to go away.
In the past, there was a perception that making a greener choice
was always a compromise, but now people can see that the technology
is good and can fit in with their lifestyle. It's really going to
take off. What's needed now is policy that recognises and grabs the
Ultimately, Ayling is confident the DIY culture of community
energy will see it through current challenges. He added:
'Community energy has always been about going out and doing it
regardless. Of course funding helps, but it feels like we're on the
verge of finding ways to do without subsidy if needs be. Then, who
is going to stop it?'