There are few better ways to start the year than in a community-spirited fashion. It’s to be hoped the government feels the same, with the publication of DECC’s Community Energy Strategy said to be imminent.
A ResPublica study from late last year showed that community owned energy in the UK could grow to 89 times its current size, with the right support.
When you compare community energy’s contribution to the grid in the UK (0.3 per cent) to that of Germany (46 per cent) you can certainly see there’s much room for improvement. As the report states, such projects can reduce bills, increase energy market competition and bring in much-needed local tax revenue to invest in services. In can also help local people have a stake in their own future. Those involved in local energy generation are at less risk of falling into the trap of the ‘rebound effect’ too, says the report:
The growth of community energy is self reinforcing as two-thirds of communities reinvest or intend to reinvest revenue from renewables in further projects of energy efficiency.”
A BBC article about community solar in the South West highlighted a case study where more than half the shareholders are locals. Funded by the people; energy used by the people – neat.
The founder of the Glastonbury Festival, Michael Eavis, is also throwing his weight behind community energy – but like many supporters of Britain’s green belt and those concerned about the country’s food production capacity, he’s against plonking solar panels on pastureland. He used to be the proud owner of the UK’s largest solar farm, on the roofs of his cow shed – but there are bigger generators these days. In fact, over the last decade, community energy capacity as a whole has grown by over 1,300 per cent.
Having sustainable incentives and support in place is absolutely vital for small-scale renewable energy to flourish – and recent news from Spain provides a cautionary note.
A tax designed for those who generate their own energy – ostensibly to pay for grid maintenance – has resulted in a severe backlash. The move comes after the country slashed its Feed-in Tariff. Austerity is tough, even on those trying to future-proof themselves against energy fluctuations. The BBC reports that it’s pushing some solar enthusiasts off-grid. One restaurant cited is investing in insulation to maximise gains, and batteries for energy storage.
Things are rarely as simple as ‘plug and play’ in the world of low-carbon energy, and rarely as convenient as one technology fits all. Solar is enjoying a boom, but it’ll take the right conditions for renewable heat, small wind and even hydropower to flourish too if we’re to increase local involvement in the UK’s energy future.