Bold vision for community energy in the UK

Community Energy England says it’s time to put people at the heart of the energy system to drive the transition away from carbon

It’s UK Community Energy Fortnight ( 13-28 June) and sector leaders are calling for a new push for people-centred projects to help drive the transition to a low-carbon economy.

Community Energy England (CEE), the lobbying and support organisation for the sector, opened the fortnight by unveiling its Community Energy 2030 Vision and State of the Sector report.

This includes some ambitious targets: by 2030, community energy should be powering the equivalent of 2.2 million homes by contributing 5,270 MW to the energy system, supporting 8,700 jobs, saving 2.5 million tonnes of CO2 emissions and adding over £1.8bn to the economy each year.

CEE calls for “a transformation of the energy system where people are put at the heart of the energy system, as consumers, but also, crucially, as active participants in and beneficiaries of a more decentralised, distributed and democratised energy system”.

It says the government has fallen short of its target, set in 2014, to have a million homes powered by community energy by 2020. “Due to policy setbacks we have only achieved 10% of that.

“We must not make this mistake again. UK government needs to offer policy
and financial support that recognises community energy’s essential role in the net-zero transition and the huge social and community benefit it brings.”

The Committee on Climate Change’s Net Zero Report, released last year, warned it will be impossible to get close to a net-zero target without engaging with people, adding: “There is currently no government strategy to engage the public in the transition to a low-carbon economy. This will
need to change.”

Community energy is key to this engagement, says CEE, adding: “If the future of energy is local, as ministers have stated, then enabling local actors will be key, to create local generation and do the energy efficiency and local grid management that is essential to rolling out more zero-carbon energy.

“With the impacts of Covid-19, the community energy sector is likely to see fewer low carbon projects deployed in 2020. But the sector’s response to the crisis demonstrates the vital role community organisations play in supporting and delivering critical local services and maintaining community cohesion.

“They also hold the key to Building Back Better, local ‘levelling up’ and increased energy justice as well as to achieving the net-zero transition.”

CEE says the community energy sector had until recent years enjoyed exponential growth, generating local energy from wind, solar, water, anaerobic digestion, wood, saving energy, providing energy storage, low carbon transport, community heat, as well as energy education, innovation projects and large amounts of community benefit.

The State of the Sector research, sponsored by SP Energy Networks, found that community energy in the UK contributes 265MW of renewable electricity generation and 13 MW of heat.

It adds that across England, Wales and Northern Ireland, community energy contributes at least £4.6m to local economies through community benefit funds and cost savings, engaging 234,000 local people in energy efficiency, and developing 39 energy storage projects and 47 low carbon transport projects.

CEE said: “With the right backing and suitable support mechanisms, community energy organisations can harness the immense passion, ingenuity and commitment of their employees and volunteers, engage their communities, accelerate the net-zero energy transition to benefit communities and local people and realise our shared 2030 Vision.

Click here to find out more about Community Energy Fortnight, which this year explores how to #HarnessOurPower, to grow resilience during the Covid-19 crisis and build back better.