ZCBlog: Tips for community energy schemes

Home » ZCBlog: Tips for community energy schemes

Last week the chief executive of Ofgem warned that Britain will come “dangerously” close to power shortages within two years. Community energy schemes are a great way to guarantee energy security and ease the strain on our energy system.

Some groups have responded to Ofgem’s power warnings by calling for more nuclear or shale gas, or for an end to ‘green taxes’. However, only by living more economically within our resources can we hope to protect our communities, environment and climate.

By reducing the energy demand of Britain’s communities we can all protect against fuel poverty. Community renewable energy (CRE) projects can enable anyone to reduce both their carbon emissions and their energy bills!

There are other benefits as well. A successful CRE project can bolster local resilience and build a sense of empowerment. Community schemes can create jobs and training as well as boost local economic development.

Community renewable energy projects are not easy to set up, but if done properly the long-term rewards are well worth it. Here’s some tips to get you started:

  1. Have patience! CRE projects need dedication because they will take a long time. The odds are someone in your community will oppose the plans, legal and governance regulations can also take their toll, but if you are passionate and can show the benefits then you will convince others.
  2. Make sure the location fits your vision. There’s potential for community energy schemes everywhere, but make sure it’s the right renewable energy. Solar PV is great in sunny urban environments, while wind is at its best at rural and coastal areas. Hydroelectric has massive potential, but finding the right circumstances is key to success. Check here for listing of MCS companies that can act as consultants. And don’t forget that district heating schemes can be a viable alternative when CRE projects aren’t feasible.
  3. Check your connection to the grid. Electricity grid connections are the responsibility of the local Distribution Network Operator (DNO). It’s a good idea to make contact with the DNO long before you formally request connection because this can ease the process and let’s you know what the. You also have to decide if you are going to export your power back to the grid or sell the excess power to adjacent properties, which will require a Power Purchasing Agreement.
  4. Make sure you do your homework. A feasibility study of your CRE project will determine if it is realistic, and help you plan your way. These studies are technical documents designed to take the project beyond the early planning stages and outline a proposal that can be used for funding. You can then take this vision to bodies like the Environment Agency and local councils.
  5. Cultivate a great relationship with your contractors. You will need to appoint a project manager to deliver the construction, installation and testing of the scheme. There’s no substitute for first-hand experience so pick someone knowledgeable that can oversee the building stage and resist the urge to have a large group micro-mange the project.
  6. This is just the tip of the iceberg! But there is loads of information out there to help you get started, such as the Rough Guide to Community Energy and the Community Energy Hub from DECC. CAT runs a range of introductory courses to renewable energy and has a free information service here. The Guardian blog also has a great article chronicling a hydro-electric project near Lancaster.

ZCB suggests implementing small scale Solar PV projects because they are quicker than most to install and start running. The feed-in tariffs may not be as financially beneficial as they once were, but photovoltaics still offer a practical and quick way to produce energy. The majority of roof-top PV systems do not need planning permission, and 2kW should be sufficient to provide about 40% an average home’s total requirements.

Co-operatives and local authorities can also play their part by providing larger renewable energy projects. Once again, Zero Carbon Britain calls for solar PV as the short-term solution because any large-scale power plants will not be ready by the end of this decade.

Tomorrow, the Sustainable Architecture blog will highlight how the building industry should also play a big part in how Britain can power down for rapid decarbonisation.