Major UK energy network operator pledges support for energy co-ops

Western Power Distribution, which serves 8 million households, is hiring four community energy engineers to help co-ops in its area

Britain’s biggest distribution network operator (DNO) has become the first in the country to pledge operational support for local energy co-ops.

DNOs are companies that own and operate the power lines and infrastructure that connect electricity networks to customers’ properties, making the decision by Western Power Distribution (WPD), the country’s largest, hugely significant for the community energy sector.

Making the announcement during Community Energy Fortnight, WPD said the engineers will liaise over business plans with the co-ops active in its four licence areas, which stretch across the south from Cornwall to East Anglia. These areas have more than 20% of the UK’s community 271 community energy groups, generating 100mW of renewable power between them.

A statement on the company’s website said: “Interest in decarbonisation, renewable power, energy efficiency and helping people in fuel poverty is growing at a local level resulting in the rise of community energy groups.

“Providing more expert support for them is among commitments in our £6.7bn business plan for 2023-28, which has a major focus on helping customers achieve net zero carbon emissions, for example by connecting electric vehicles and heat pumps.

“We are planning to employ four new community energy engineers to provide extensive assistance for around 100 existing community energy groups in its area, as well as enabling 150 new ones to get started by 2028.”

The first community engineer to be hired is Faithful Chanda, who said: “The idea behind this new role is to provide holistic support for communities, to help them navigate the complexities of the sector and ultimately turn their net zero ambitions into reality.

Faithful Chanda

“We want to encourage more groups to connect their solar, wind or hydro projects onto the network and my job is to help them understand they are not alone in that process.”

WPD says the scheme will see engineers combine their technical understanding with local knowledge to help community energy groups connect to our network, offering personalised one-to-one sessions, signposts to sources of finance and introductions to additional contacts.

They will also supply training, how-to guides, webinars and case studies, and organise events to raise awareness of low-carbon technologies and renewable connections.

WPD’s business plan for 2023-28 commits it to connecting 30 new community energy groups a year to its network – a 150% increase – and it pledges to hold 60 community energy surgeries a year.

“The role of community energy engineers is important if the UK is to decarbonise by 2035,” said Mr Chanda. “Communities and companies like WPD will have to work closely to ensure low carbon technologies are adopted to bring about the scale of change needed.”