Community Energy Conference 2016

Community Energy Fortnight 2016 launched on Saturday, 3 September, to showcase and celebrate inspiring examples of communities who are sharing resources, generating renewable energy and wasting less. This year the...

Community Energy Fortnight 2016 launched on Saturday, 3 September, to showcase and celebrate inspiring examples of communities who are sharing resources, generating renewable energy and wasting less.

This year the Fortnight, which is supported by The Co-operative Energyhas the theme Powering Forward, and will explore options for new models to face future challenges.

This year has seen the community energy sector finally begin to make a real impact at scale – but current initiatives were made possible through financial support models, such as the Feed-in Tariff (FiT) subsidy and Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS) tax relief regimes, both of which have now been withdrawn for future projects.

This means that by 2018 the community energy sector will need to have developed radically new models of operation if it is to continue moving forward and develop at scale.

“Community Energy projects have a unique ability to drive change and empower citizens, which is why we are so keen to support the Fortnight and see it go from strength to strength,” said Ramsay Dunning, managing director of Co-operative Energy. “The UK has become a hotbed of community energy innovation and we need to see this continue.

“At Co-operative Energy we are proud that the number of active energy supply agreements we have with community energy generators increased from nine to 13 last year. Our customers can pair their supply with these and other renewables projects via our User Chooser facility, which recently beat over 300 entries from across Europe to win the EU Renewable Energy Award.”

The Fortnight is organised by Forum for the Future and Community Energy England on behalf of the Community Energy Coalition.

Events this year are organised under four themes that explore current topical issues facing community energy:

  1. Exploring new approaches – new business models for community energy?
  2. Stories from abroad – inspiration from other countries
  3. Seeing and celebrating – showcasing successful projects and initiatives
  4. Powering up – training, skills-building, learning events and workshops

The Fortnight launched with the Community Energy Conference – Powering Forward: rebooting the UK’s community energy sector – hosted by Co-operative Energy & Community Energy England in Oxford on 3 September. The event asked how the crowd-sourcing of finance will change and whether demand management and storage can provide radical new options. It also explored the role of local government – and the potential impact of the EU’s new Renewable Energy Directive.

“The EU Directive is very important for the direction and speed of the energy transition in Europe,” said Dr Andreas Wieg, of the Deutsche Genossenschafts- und Raiffeisenverband e.V. (DGRV, the federation for German co-operatives), one of the keynote speakers at the conference.

“But the scope for action from national governments’ energy regulation is important too. Both levels determine how much citizen participation is desired in the European energy transition.”

Dr Wieg hopes to see more technological solutions and business opportunities for small and decentralised players of the energy transition in the near future.

“There are a lot of interesting technological and organisational solutions being developed at the moment, such as the direct delivery of electricity in multi-family houses or the foundation of umbrella energy co-operatives for direct marketing of electricity to their members.

“But, for me, the most exciting thing about community energy is the social impact of the co-operation between people. Energy co-ops have the power to revitalise communities.

“Maybe, for example, there is a plan to build a wind turbine close to a village. The members have to talk with each other about this investment, they share their expectations or concerns – and finally they have to negotiate and make collective decisions.

“All this  leads to a kind of social welding of the people on site. That’s fascinating.”

Related: Dr Andreas Wieg on NIMBYism, co-operatives and Germany’s Energy Transition

Siward Zomer, of REScoop (the European Federation of Renewable Energy Cooperatives) and Netherlands-based renewable energy co-operative De Windvogel, says what is interesting is that “we all work under the same EU directives and regulations, but they are implemented in a completely different way on national levels.

“That means when something works in Denmark it can also work in the UK or the other way around. This way we can learn from other countries about the implementation of these regulations.”

Mr Zomer is lead a workshop on ‘Why Europe still matters’ and was part of a panel discussion exploring what community energy will look like in the future.

“I think by 2020 there will be strong local groups with strong regional, national and European frameworks for support,” he says. “I can see them moving beyond production to owning the whole value chain of energy.

“There’s an old energy co-operative in Valencia that owns the whole value chain, from development, production, distribution and the sale of energy to their members – it’s possible.”

Mr Zomer believes the biggest challenge now facing the sector is not to create awareness, but to make sure it doesn’t miss the chance to democratise the energy transition process.

“We now see massive players entering the market like Google and Shell,”he said. “How do we argue that small is also efficient?

“There is still the myth that big is efficient, but in developing renewables it is not.”

He added: “In Europe I see that the energy market is changing rapidly. Where community energy organisations were first quirky groups in a niche market, now everything is gaining speed.

“In order not to remain small and quirky but ride the massive wave, local community energy organisations need to professionalise and stay ahead of the game.”

Paul Monaghan (Co-operative Energy), Siward Zomer (, Josh Roberts (ClientEarth) and Dr Andreas Wieg (DGRV) at the 2016 Community Energy Conference
Paul Monaghan (Co-operative Energy), Siward Zomer (, Josh Roberts (ClientEarth) and Dr Andreas Wieg (DGRV) at the 2016 Community Energy Conference

Dr Wieg sees two different kinds of challenges ahead. One issue is energy regulation. “In countries with a good renewables support mechanism, like a feed in tariff system, it is much easier to invest in green energy, especially for small enterprises such as community energy organisations,” he said.

“It’s easier to make a calculation or to handle the risks of the project development. On the other hand, if you have to participate in an auction to get the right for building up a wind turbine, a community energy company has a competitive disadvantage, because of the size and regional focus.”

The other difficulty is how to get a group of inspired people motivated to invest their time, money and entrepreneurial talent into building up a citizen energy organisation. The solution, he says, is working together.

“It is natural that a decentralised movement invents a lot of the same wheels, but a lot of energy is also lost by that. Pool your resources and keep your governance local. That makes a strong movement.”

Paul Monaghan, sustainability adviser to Co-operative Energy, says another challenge is the planning regime in England and Wales (less so Scotland), which is “pretty hostile” to onshore wind and solar farms. “We need this to change if new models are to thrive,” he says.

“The previous subsidy regimes have been slashed back and the numbers no longer add up in many cases. New models are needed if growth is to be maintained. These may need to tap emerging storage and demand management technologies. Emerging storage technologies open up new avenues for renewables, and the introduction of SMART meters opens up the opportunity of demand management and time of use tariffs for the first time.”

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