2019 Q&A: Emma Bridge on energy

Chief executive at Community Energy England

 What are the challenges facing energy co-ops in 2020?

 Funding remains a challenge for energy co-ops in 2020 as they seek to create viable business models without previous government subsidies that made income streams predictable. A key challenge, and opportunity, within this new landscape will be securing agreements with local authorities and businesses to use renewable electricity generated by community energy. Rapid evolution of the energy infrastructure is challenging energy co-ops to create innovative and financially viable services involving new technology and exploiting digital and data opportunities – for example working with battery storage and smart meters to add flexibility to the energy network. We will see some really exciting projects coming through next year, but making those projects replicable across the country may take longer without the national government support that the sector has previously seen. Community enterprises also face the challenge of ensuring they have solid succession plans to ensure that essential knowledge is retained and new volunteers are recruited to enable community energy to grow. You can find details of your nearest community energy co-op the CEE website, communityenergyengland.org    

 How was 2019 for CEE and the co-op energy sector in general?

 The last year has seen dramatic changes throughout the UK energy sector, particularly due to the closure of the electricity Feed-in Tariff (FiT) in March. Many groups have been focused on building the last of the FiT projects and groups have had a greater focus on tackling fuel poverty and improving energy efficiency. Community energy has also seen an increased profile, being included in all but one of the main parties’ General Election manifestos, and seen as a key vehicle for delivering local authority climate declarations.

It was a busy year for CEE, launching our third State of the Sector report as well as three regional reports. CEE ended the year with its highest membership number to date, with over 230 members. The resilience of the community energy sector shone through during Community Energy Fortnight, a campaign managed by CEE to highlight the benefits of community energy. Some of the outcomes of the fortnight, which boasted 56 events across the country, included the launch of the London Community Energy Fund, Power to Change’s Next Generation Fund and PowerPaired, a matchmaking service for groups and the owners of sites with renewable energy potential, as well as a campaign for the return of tax relief for community energy investment.

How did CEE make a difference in 2019?

 CEE increased our focus on policy and advocacy in 2019, working across all political parties and government departments as well as with regional stakeholders, lobbying for a just and low-carbon energy system in which community energy projects can thrive and benefit their localities. We supported the sector through inclusive and free events across the country. This included the annual Community Energy Conference in Sheffield, the largest gathering of community energy practitioners in the country, which gave them the chance to network and share experiences. CEE also celebrated the sector in 2019 through its hosting of the Community Energy Awards in London, and supported a number of research, innovation and funding programmes.

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