Sorting out your energy worries over a cuppa sounds like an idea hatched with Brits in mind - and, funnily enough, it is one currently being rolled out in communities.
Our interest was piqued on being told about South East London Community Energy’s (SELCE) network of cafes. “Your neighbour is paying less than you for electricity and gas”, the co-operative informs anyone curious enough to land on its website; and if that’s not enough to get you onboard, it’ll throw in a cafe voucher and an LED bulb worth £7. And they say you can’t get something for nothing these days.
A ‘carrot’ is always useful in getting people engaged - but how likely are such events able to get enough people along and, when there, deliver real savings? Luckily, Communities Matter, which runs a number of cafes in the South East of England, evaluated the success of a ‘pop-up cafe’ in Crowborough in June 2014.
The evaluation shows 150 people attending events, and "the average saving was between £50 and £200". Perhaps most interestingly, it seems that it takes time for people to get used to local energy services like this. It was in the later days of the four-day trial that more vulnerable people in the community started to attend, after word of mouth was built up. This does echo much Energy Saving Trust consumer research, which shows that trust is often fairly difficult to come by, but extremely valuable when you’ve got it.
It appears that energy cafes are becoming quite the phenomenon. From just a cursory search, currently-operating cafes from Cornwall to Galashiels can be found. They seem to illustrate wider factors; most pertinently the need for reliable local advice and community engagement if we’re to gain ground on carbon and fuel poverty targets.
The fact that it’s often community renewable energy groups taking on the role of advisors is encouraging. While the idea of investing in a local community energy scheme may be appealing (and possible) for some people in a local area, there are others who need assistance with the bills landing on their mats right now. Energy efficiency tips and help with switching and consumer rights issues can provided an added value that could engage a much larger contingent in the changing face of British energy.