Written by our newest ACE Director, Nikki Pillinger. Nikki is a trainee energy consultant and has an MSc in Energy Policy:
What are the benefits of community energy projects?
Community owned energy projects allow the public to become co-producers of energy rather than distant, passive consumers. This can address the ‘what difference can I make?’ apathy that so many people feel about their own individual energy behaviours. By being involved in energy producing initiatives people can gain a sense of control and ownership over their energy supply and this allows them to engage with it in a more positive way. By supporting local action and empowering individuals and communities as producers, decentralisation of energy infrastructure has the potential to bring about a cultural change in our attitude to and use of energy.
Community owned energy projects can promote development and cohesiveness within communities. It encourages communities to work together and enables people who would not usually come together to engage actively in discussions and work collectively towards a common goal. Community renewable projects harness the expertise of local residents, often on a voluntary basis, allowing communities to benefit from each other’s skills. Different sets of communities working together can achieve a much more open and trusting environment. Working as and for the community through civil engagement can enhance trust between people and organisations, an outcome which builds local capacity for future and further collective action.
Involvement in renewable energy developments can allow communities to become more environmentally aware and achieve more of an ethical consciousness. In many case studies a concerted effort is made to involve children in the projects, thus enhancing the future sustainability of communities.
Having local renewable energy can result in more reliable supply. Greater use of local energy would also enhance the security and efficiency of the energy system as a whole by increasing the diversity of generating capacity available and reducing the energy lost in transmission or wasted as unused heat.
Local renewable energy projects can provide new sources of income and employment for communities suffering from agricultural decline, depopulation and economic collapse. A focus on reducing the carbon footprint of communities in rural areas could generate future local employment opportunities in the fields of power generation, distribution, energy efficiency, engineering, building services, construction and utilities. It can also encourage further investment in the area and encourage rural tourism.
The vast majority of community energy projects are in rural areas. Some renewable technologies, such as wind or biomass, are more suited to rural areas, where they can provide new income streams for local residents. Rural populations are less well integrated into energy infrastructure than those in urban areas. 36% of rural properties are off the gas network and electricity supplies may be unreliable, so there is more drive towards alternative sources of energy.
There is a need to stimulate the market for renewables in the context of carbon reduction targets and also a need to support the development of installation and maintenance skills and infrastructures. Adopting a community approach enables the government to provide capital funding and support the market, particularly for renewable energy technologies that are outside of market subsidy mechanisms, without contravening European rules on state-aid.