Moving Forward with Renewables: The Community Energy Movement


“The cat’s out of the bag when it comes to community energy, the movement’s started.”

Community energy had a big part to play at the Regen SW Smart Energy Marketplace event this month. Phil Sheppard from the National Grid started the day off in an open talk, and pinpointed the three major issues we face right now: energy storage, decentralised energy systems and market design, leading to a movement towards locally generated energy.

Phil Sheppard – National Grid Presentation

The Community Energy Coallition

Community engagement

A morning workshop focused in on community engagement, which is essential to get projects off the ground. Jodie Giles of Regen SW, who works with over 200 community groups, reminded us that engagement can be as simple as rewarding the volunteers crucial to many projects. She also filled us in on the draft policy being written with the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) surrounding neighbourhood planning.

Dave Chapman and Anna Lodge from Totnes Community Development Society gave an inspiring case study as to how they have engaged with the residents of Totnes in the renovation of a brownfield site. By re-thinking their approach to engagement- focusing on the journey rather than the outcome- they have managed to engage 4,500 residents and get the community working together. They did this by holding many drop-in sessions and workshops with the community in which they asked what the site had been to people and what it could be.

Next up was Easton Energy, a community group in the heart of Bristol that wants to raise awareness of energy in their community and fight fuel poverty. They have been trying to making energy more exciting and accessible to their diverse community through events such as ‘street meets’ (small engagement events), drop in sessions, clothes swaps or even knitting workshops. But their main attraction is their retro-fitted HQ building, complete with funky mural, which demonstrates to local residents how old houses can be made more energy efficient.

Jodie Giles – RegenSW Presentation 
Anna Lodge and Dave Chapman – Totnes Community Development Society
Zoe Banks Gross – Easton Energy Group Presentation 

Avoiding Grid Lock 

The next session, ‘a beginner’s guide to local energy’, focused on the number of different options available, particularly in the face of grid connection issues. These options included:

  • Partnering with a supplier using either a licence lite or white label, both of which have pros and cons.
  • Going down the route of self-supply, either being fully licensed or installing private wires.
  • The future models which includes peer-to-peer trading or microgrids.

Stephens Scown also gave a low down on some of the important thinking points when starting a project like this. Having good project management is paramount, with as much research and preparation as possible, especially regarding the legal aspects as neglecting these initially can be costly later on.

Olly Frankland – RegenSW Presentation 
Alison Stock – Stephens Scown Presentation 

Avonmouth wind turbine

The last workshop was all about the way forward for community energy in a post-FIT world. Most projects are focused on electricity and heavily reliant on FITs, so what are alternative options? Pete Capener from Bath and West Community Energy suggests not to overlook renewable heat options. Projects also need to reduce their costs by 1/3rd, try to sell 100% of energy directly on site, increase value of the project by using a private wire or sleeving, and sell your energy during peak times.

Also, don’t forget there is other funding available, for example the Rural Community Energy Fund, set up by DEFRA and DECC, specifically for community based, generation projects!

Peter Capener – Bath & West Community Energy Presentation 
Mark Collinson – WRAP PresentationTotnes group