The Shape of Things to Come: Are our Utility Companies Doomed?

We may be fast approaching a time when utility companies and major energy suppliers become a thing of the past. As we continue to embrace the world of renewable energy, including solar panels and wind farms, many of us are becoming less focused on the national grid and more on community power generation.

Is it possible that in the next twenty or thirty years each town or city will have its own personal power supply that is financed and maintained by local inhabitants?

We have, over the last decade or so, seen a number of community projects for hydro-electric and wind farm development taking place. Though these today feed into the national grid and the power they generate is used for the benefit of all, with a slight tweak in infrastructure we could see individual communities becoming far more sustainable and independent than ever before.

Whether it is a good idea or not, remains to be seen, but the capacity is there along with the technology to change the way that we distribute and generate power.

Is Community Solar the Way Forward?

One of the arenas in which community renewable energy projects have taken off more recently is with solar power. In the current climate where large solar farms are being knocked back because of lack of funding or an unwillingness to grant planning permission, one of the clear ways of getting panels onto rooftops is through the backing of the local community.

Subsidies and the Feed in Tariff may well be under threat, but if the evidence of recent projects is to go by the solar power industry still has a pretty bright future.

The Chase Cannock Community Solar project is a prime example of how to raise money to install solar panels by getting people to invest in a sustainable energy initiative. Anyone over the age of 16 can buy shares in the project and the minimum investment is £100. The dividends are paid through the revenue generated from panels that have been installed with the return expected to be about 7% over the next 20 years. The project has so far raised £750,000 to help with the installation of solar panels in the local community.

In Berwick, East Sussex, plans are afoot to build a solar farm that will be largely funded by the local community who will also benefit from the profits. The new endeavour will be an additional site to a nearby commercial solar farm and chairman Alister Scott echoed the benefits for many communities when he said:

“Solar technology now puts power in our hands, giving us the opportunity to generate clean power and local revenue that we can do great things with.”

In Balcombe, where people are also protesting against proposed fracking in the area, they are getting together to create a co-operative that will supply electricity to the local homes through solar power, with co-founder Joe Nixon commenting:

“Advances in renewable technology mean that communities like ours can now generate the energy we need ourselves, locally, in a way that benefits us directly instead of big power companies – and helps the environment instead of harming it.”

A lot, of course, depends on the energy and enthusiasm of the local community when it comes to projects such as these. It could be that the renewable energy agenda may well be taken out of the hands of national governments and managed locally, with residents having a much greater say over how their own power is generated.

Whilst it may take time, the notion of community solar panels and other technology is beginning to gain greater traction and could be the most viable and productive option for our future electricity generation.

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