Awards celebrate resilience of community energy sector in challenging times

‘We are recognising the achievements of organisations from across the country, which go far beyond the generation of clean energy’

The Community Energy Award winners were announced in London last night, showcasing the efforts of the sector to develop new energy solutions and tackle the climate crisis.

Run by sector body Community Energy England (CEE), the ceremony is the first edition of the awards since 2019, and was supported by the Co-operative Party, Greater London Authority,  Younity and Naturesave Insurance. Speakers at the event included: Joe Fortune, general secretary of the Co-op Party, and Nadia Smith, sustainable futures project manager at South East London Community Energy (SELCE) and winner of 2019’s Young Person Champion Award winner). 

CEE said: “Despite the community energy sector’s most challenging year ever following the curtailment of government policy support in numerous areas, the sector remains resilient, passionate and innovative. The awards showcase new areas of development, as well as the benefits that these projects bring to people living in the community.”

The winners are:

Community Energy Champion (Individual): Kate Gilmartin, NW Net Zero Hub

CEE says Gilmartin was chosen for her “proactive and creative approach to maximising the impact of the Rural Community Energy Fund in the NW Net Zero hub region.”

It added: “She has been instrumental in building a wide ranging portfolio of projects by proactively engaging with communities to bring them forward and supporting them through the feasibility and development process. Her effectiveness has meant that the pipeline of RCEF projects in the NW are leveraging up to £69 of finance for projects for every £1 of government development grant.

“That is a spectacular return on investment. Not only has Kate got decades of community energy experience, she still has as much passion, commitment and up-to-date knowledge as ever. She’s also warm and approachable, and is always the first to offer her input and expertise.”

Social and Environmental Impact Award, Community Photo of the Year Award: SELCE

SELCE’s winning image shows the work of its energy champions in providing home energy advice, helping those at risk of fuel poverty cut carbon and costs

SELCE won the Environmental Impact Award for its delivery of fuel poverty and energy efficiency advice. CEE notes that it has increased its activity and now employs a professional delivery team.

The organisation was part of a Bristol University study in 2020 which identified that its work delivered at least a 9:1 social return on investment. It delivers energy cafes, online or in person workshops for organisations, one-on-one consultations, and attends community events to give advice and do home visits.

Its advice often includes signposting to other help such as on benefits, debt, grants. SELCE has also provided energy champion and advice training for other organisations and is leading the way on upskilling and upscaling the sector. It held several workshops during Community Energy Fortnight and has just completed four online workshops for Community Energy London.

SELCE collaborated with Repowering London on kick-starting the Community Energy Winter Support initiative involving many London CE groups. According to Bristol University research, its fuel poverty work has generated £9-10 social benefit (including ~£3 per year savings on bills to residents) per £1 spent. One project supported 996 vulnerable households, saved residents £312,996 on bills and 173,225 kg CO2e. 

Community Energy Champion (Team): Community Energy London (CEL)

Judges noted CEL’s “excellent relationship building with London councils, which has directly led to the creation of a London Community Energy Fund (LCEF) … a key campaign goal for CEL, following the premature closure by the government of the Urban Community Energy Fund (UCEF)”.

It said CEL has helped to shape and support the development of LCEF, backing nearly 150 projects across the capital with around £1,500,000 of support directed to community energy groups for feasibility and capital grants. CEL also launched its campaign – Community Energy in a Climate Emergency – which has helped bring forward support for community energy from an increasing number of London local authorities. London boroughs who have now set up a dedicated Community Energy Fund include Islington, Camden, Lewisham, Haringey, Hounslow, Hackney and Southwark. In total these funds have helped direct approximately £3m in capital grants to community energy groups in their areas.   

Community Energy Organisation of the Year; Local Authority Collaboration, and Scaling Up Community Energy (three categories): Community Energy South

Community Energy South (CES) scored an impressive triple on the night, with judges noting its “continued commitment to develop and deliver the Community Energy Pathways Programme to directly capacity build and support the growth of the community energy sector”.

The Pathways programme works directly with local authorities and aligns with their Climate Change Strategies delivering a bespoke Community Energy Pathway that is adopted by the local authorities and supports their Net Zero approaches.

CES has successfully delivered Pathways with Essex County Council, Surrey County Council and Hampshire County Council and also with South Downs National Park Authority. In 2022 CES,  supported by the BEIS Net Zero Team, have expressions of interest from 10 county councils and municipal authorities to join the Pathways programme.

Community Engagement and Inclusion Award: Repowering London

Repowering London won for its volunteer-led work in their local communities, taking in a range of projects to develop and grow its co-operatives (Lambeth Community Solar, North Kensington Community Energy, and Aldgate Solar Power). Activities include organising local climate events and workshops on energy advice and solar panel making.

Volunteers also connected with local community groups and joined their events, and have been building political support for community energy, identifying sites for future solar panel installations, and developing outreach and communications materials.

CEE says the co-ops are “continually contributing to building a local climate movement and their volunteers and champions are a driving force behind building these links with local groups and getting more people involved in climate justice and working for the benefits of communities”. 

Finance and Innovation Award: Ambition Community Energy (ACE), Thrive Renewables, Bristol & Bath Regional Capital (BBRC) and Bristol City Council

ACE, Thrive,, BBRC and Bristol Council won this category for working together to provide capital for impactful projects in the West of England.

In late 2019 Bristol Council and BBRC launched City Funds – a specific impact investment fund for the city and its immediate surroundings, and the first of its kind in the UK.

Mandated to invest in impact themes across social and environmental priorities, ACE approached BBRC in late 2019 with a plan for a community-owned wind turbine.

“City Funds took the decision to invest even before these critical risk points had been crossed,” says CEE. “As a place-based impact investor, BBRC was able to understand the local conditions intimately. Combining this loan with match from Power to Change, it was this step that ACE tell us allowed the project to move ahead; without it, ACE may well have failed.”

Further investment from City Funds has taken this total to £900k, providing crucial leverage for Thrive.

Once commissioned, the turbine will be the largest onshore turbine in England at 4.2 MW, capable of generating enough power for close to 3,000 homes, and is expected to save almost 120,000 tonnes of carbon emissions over its lifetime. The project is 100% community owned and will provide a new revenue stream for the local community, with all profits from electricity sales will be reinvested back into the area, acting as a driver for regeneration.

Fuel Poverty Action Award: Energise Sussex Coast

Energise Sussex Coast (ESC) won for its “high quality energy advice and support to communities in East Sussex”. It offers broad ranging energy advice in person, at community locations, or via telephone appointments.

In response to the energy crisis its focus has been to help people bring their energy costs down and save carbon. It also holds regular information evenings and workshops open to the public which address energy related issues.

The aim of the events is to bring residents with experience and expertise and professional experts to give impartial information to local households about how they can make their home more energy efficient and move to renewable heating and energy sources. This year they’ve held information evenings about a range of topics including heat pumps, solar, how to make your Victorian home more energy efficient, building off grid systems and insulation. 

Youth Energy Award: Energy Heroes

The Energy Heroes programme was chosen for its “innovative approach to engaging young people in the community energy sector”, which is based on the Department for Education’s expected learning outcomes from the maths national curriculum.

The basis of the programme is that the learning and activities also provide the nudge for their families to engage with energy matters (bills, meters and energy efficiency).

“Energy Heroes combines powerful aspects of learning through a series of practical activities,” adds CEE.

Its programme delivery consists of teacher training, lessons, teaching and learning materials and resources. Energy Heroes has now been delivered to just over 200 schools since their inception in 2016, this translates to 6,600 pupils being taught to become Energy Heroes and engaged in energy saving activities, and 70,000 pupils reached. 

Helen Seagrave, interim chair of CEE, said: “The Community Energy Awards is one of our favourite events of the year as it highlights and reminds us what can be achieved when communities come together and invest in their future.

“We are recognising the achievements of organisations from across the country, which go far beyond the generation of clean energy. The awards is our annual celebration of all things community energy and a chance for us to, once again, shine a light on community energy and bring together groups who share a similar ethos and vision.”