Is the UK Ready for a Community Energy Revolution?

According to a new report, The Future of Community Energy’, commissioned by Scottish Power Energy Networks (SPEN) and produced by WPI Economics the UK government should establish a national community energy strategy with a community energy fund.

The report suggests that community energy schemes such as community owned solar panels or wind turbines could power up to 2.2 million homes by 2030, generating up to 5.3GW of renewable electricity. It maps out the scale of the benefits the sector could deliver if given the support needed to flourish.

SPEN is asking the government to support the creation of new, region funding streams and to provide more help and resource to local community groups wanting to set up schemes to allow for faster uptake of community energy.

They believe that if a national strategy were to be adopted it could ‘kick-start’ a community energy revolution and create the opportunity for millions of households to play a vital role in helping the UK meet its climate goals. The UK government has in fact legislated to reach Net Zero carbon emissions by 2050. It is estimated that 2.5m tonnes of carbon emissions could be saved which is more than the annual emissions of all UK domestic flights if a national community energy strategy was put in place. Households within these schemes could also see their energy bills cut by up to £150m a year.

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A community energy revolution of this intensity could lead to the generation of over 8,000 jobs and inject up to £1.8 billion into the UK’s regions by 2030. Potentially the UK could see a rise in the number of community energy organisations from several hundred today to around 4,000.

SPEN is also recommending that the government learns how to go about initiating the schemes in the most effective way from existing communities and local energy support organisations that have successfully implemented these types of projects.

The Distribution Network Operator (DNO) has made a commitment to launch an educational toolkit, which is set to provide communities with the information needed to get schemes off the ground.

Frank Mitchell, chief executive of SP Energy Networks, said it’s “time for communities to be given a stronger voice in how their areas reach net zero”.  Communities need new funding streams and reduced regulation in licensing planning in order to meet that vision.

Mitchell added:

“As the provider of the energy networks that make this possible, SP Energy Networks is committed to doing more. But we need government and regulators to allow us to do so.”

On launching the report Frank Mitchell said:

“This report shows just how much potential there is within our communities in our drive to a zero-carbon future, lowering emissions with the additional benefit of driving up skills and jobs across the UK. It also shows what might be possible by highlighting the innovative efforts of communities, notably in Scotland and Wales, where sustained government support and a strong backing from third sector organisations has enabled local energy to lead the way, not only in a UK context but internationally as well.”

Keith Anderson, Chief Executive of Scottish Power said: 

“We recently launched our Zero Carbon Communities roadmap highlighting the changes needed in communities to reach net zero. This report builds on that, by outlining what is needed to empower everyone to get involved in tackling climate change and our toolkit will help ensure that local communities are not left behind in the green energy revolution. We are committed to helping all our communities to play their part in tackling the climate emergency whilst enjoying significant benefits and achieving a better future quicker”.

The Energy Networks Association announced a series of Community Energy Forums in October 2019 devised to further integrate community energy into its Open Networks Project.

Community energy is also beginning to play a bigger role in country-wide supply with Co-op Energy launching a tariff using electricity entirely sourced from community energy projects.

The tariff entitled Community Power will use energy that is 100% renewable and sourced from community energy projects around the UK, through a Joint Venture between the Mid-counties Co-operative and Octopus Energy. For just £5 more than the company’s standard tariff a month, customers can opt for renewable electricity and carbon offset gas from 90 community suppliers. The tariff will cost on average £88 a month for a typical household, and profits will be reinvested back into the community energy projects. Power from projects such as Westmill Wind and Solar are included in the community energy mix.

Greg Jackson, CEO of Octopus Energy said:

“Being able to buy locally-sourced clean, green energy is a massive jump in the right direction for this country’s ailing power grid and carbon emissions. Investing in more local energy infrastructure and getting Britain’s homes run by the sun when it’s shining and the wind when it’s blowing can end our reliance on dirty fossil fuels sooner than we hoped. Local people investing in local people means that we can all muck in and put the work in to decarbonise where governments and large companies are slow to.”

Phil Ponsonby, chief executive of Mid-counties Co-operative, said that the company wanted to “go even further” in support of community power.

He said:

“Our Community Power tariff is the UK’s only tariff powered by 100% community-generated electricity and we ensure a fair price is paid to community generators. Thanks to the co-operative values of The Mid-counties Co-operative and the technological capability of Octopus Energy, the Community Power tariff provides customers award-winning service and access to community generation.”

Lastly, local, distributed energy generation isn’t just a great way of creating low cost and low carbon energy; it empowers communities and brings forward a new kind of economy with citizens in control.