What’s community energy?
Our understanding of a community energy project is one where communities have a high degree of control and ownership (Walker and Devine-Wright, 2008). The Department of Energy and Climate Change definition stated that such projects involve renewable energy generation, energy efficiency initiatives, demand-side response, collective purchase or some combination of these (2015). We widen that definition to include projects that are engaged with energy innovations and experimentation, as well as awareness raising and energy education.
Whilst there are many types of communities, there are also many different ways of working ‘with energy’. For example, most people associate ‘community energy’ with renewable energy generation – which in cities is predominantly solar. However, there is a growing number of technologies associated with energy generation – including tidal, anaerobic digestion, combined heat and power, heat pumps and wind. In London, solar currently leads the way, but we believe that experimentation is key; we will continue to support solar but are also excited to assist with other technologies.
Solar in London
“Community energy groups in London currently own and operate 748 kWp of solar PV situated on churches, social housing blocks and schools that have been financed through the purchase of shares by members of the community.”
Community Energy London report ‘Realising the Potential’ July 2017
Despite the many set backs that the solar industry has faced due to inconsistent government policies, there are many successful community solar projects – even in London where the property market and access to space is extremely competitive. See below for examples of successful community solar projects in London.
Greenpeace outline how easily solar could contribute to powering every home in the country – and London needs to generate as much energy as possible onsite. This would help make the city more economically and environmentally sustainable, not to mention help relieve those living with – and dying from – fuel poverty.
However, the London Assembly Environment Committee’s ‘Bring Me Sunshine How London’s homes could generate more solar energy’ (October 2015) noted that London, “has the lowest amount of installed solar power capacity of any region in the UK, despite being the most affluent and populous part of the country, and having a favourable climate by UK standards.”
Green Alliance (March 2016)
Community Energy groups in London can lead the way
Community groups have lists of projects that were ready to go, but stopped when Government policies made them no longer viable. Community Energy London’s ‘Realising the Potential’ July 2017 points out current barriers and identifies the profile of buildings that have proved most suitable for solar installations.
Buildings that are suitable for solar installation usually require, stability of tenure, large roofs and high electricity usage, e.g. schools, places of worship and public buildings.
Showcase of Solar schemes installed by Community Energy Groups in London
En10ergy set up two solar energy projects in Muswell Hill (N10) and one in Wood Green:Marks and Spencers on Muswell Hill Broadway – The project installed 45kWp of solar PV panels on the roof of Marks and Spencers in July 2010.
Muswell Hill Methodist Church – Installed 20kWp of solar panels on the roof of the Muswell Hill Methodist Church on Colney Hatch Lane, completed in April 2011Woodside High School – En10ergy installed 49.8kWp of solar PV at this academy, which shares an electrical supply with Riverside, a Haringey special school.
As well as working with Repowering London on the Banister House Solar project, Hackney Energy revived a 15yr old solar installation at Homerton Grove Adventure Playground in 2014.
Power Up North London (PUNL)
PUNL has installed one project and is conducting extensive research into other potential local roofs for solar.
St Anne’s Church West Hill Highgate – Installed 19kWp of community solar in Sept 2016.
Repowering have set up four community solar projects on social housing:
Brixton Energy Solar 1 – The project involved the installation of a 37.24kWp solar power station on the roof of Elmore House on the social housing Loughborough Estate in Brixton in March 2012.
Brixton Energy Solar 2 – installed 45kWp of solar electric (photovoltaic) panels on the roofs of Styles Gardens, five of the housing blocks in the Loughborough Estate, Brixton in Oct 2013.
Brixton Energy Solar 3 – installed 52kWp of solar PV panels on the roofs of Roupell Park estate in Brixton. The panels went live in September 2014.
Banister House Solar – supported by Hackney Energy, the project generates 102kWp of renewable, community-owned electricity for the Banister House Estate and residents, from January 2014.
The group helped schools in London install solar panel systems on schools free of charge, using crowd funding:
Castlebar School – installed 19.76kWp of solar in 2016
Gospel Oak Primary School – installed 29.64kWp of solar in 2016 Acland Burghley – installed 48.36kWp
Grange – installed 8.84kWp
SE24 installed 19kWp on the roofs of Herne Hill United Church and Herne Hill Methodist Church Hall – in the summer of 2016. In 2017, they installed a 50kWp solar PV installation at St Christopher’s Hospice in Sydenham.
Solar SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies)
Solar SOAS was the first university project in London to install 29.6KWp of solar panels on the roof of the SOAS Old Building in September 2016.
SELCE installed 198kWp of solar across Ashmead, Mulgrave, Horniman Primary and Charlton Academy schools in 2015/16 and 149kWp of solar across Alderwood, Deansfield and Bannockburn Primary schools in 2016.
Please get in touch if you belong to another London group that has installed solar.
Some groups don’t deal with energy generation at all, preferring to focus on energy efficiency projects in their area, such as promoting the use of LEDs. Energy efficiency is a key element of a renewable energy project: the more efficient a building, the more feasible it is to power the building with renewable energy. To put energy efficiency into a national context, the much disputed nuclear station, Hinkley Point C, was predicted to generate 7% of the UK’s electricity requirements. However, energy experts predict that 7% of the demand could be simply saved through energy efficiency measures – meaning no need for unproven and potentially dangerous nuclear technologies.
Showcase of the projects
Using income from its community solar installations, Brixton Energy provide the following energy projects:
Home Energy Audits: including installation of energy efficient light bulbs and energy saving power down plugs at Elmore House and Styles Gardens.
Energy surveys: to ascertain the level of interest of residents in Brixton about information on saving money on energy bills etc.
Energy Advice sessions: Energy efficiency advice sessions are delivered locally, included draught busting workshops.
The Energy strand of Ealing Transition hold workshops on secondary glazing, tailored to the Edwardian and Victorian houses in the area.
Energy Solutions support households and communities around North West London who are experiencing fuel poverty, particularly the boroughs of Brent and Ealing. Projects include:
Free insulation and heating (ECO)
Under One Roof for vulnerable individuals in Brent home via visits to look at ways to help, such as delivering emergency help and advice for dealing with landlords, dealing with fuel debt, tariffs, switching and energy efficiency.
Cold Weather Support in Ealing (COSIE)
En10ergy has assisted Woodside High School to take up a Salix loan to replace £18,000 worth of LEDs, saving £9,000 a year. They also help local residents and businesses to negotiate bulk deals with suppliers of energy saving measures e.g loft insulation, condensing boilers, solar thermal heating.
Furzedown Community Network’s Low Carbon Zone
The FCN operates around the Tooting area with Low Carbon as one of its strands. This includes energy efficiency initiatives, such as visiting 1600 houses in Furzedown and Graveney as part of government’s RE:NEW project.
Highgate Society Sustainable Homes
The Highgate Society have arranged ‘21st Century Homes’ exhibitions of local low carbon installers, open local low energy homes, held ‘be warmer’ meetings demonstrating and even a thermal imaging night to show the difference in heat loss on a cold night between well insulated and ‘leaky’ homes.
Muswell Hill Sustainability Group
Muswell Hill have worked with Sustainable Homes to arrange their own 21st Century Homes exhibitions, working with Haringey council on ‘Retrofit Works’ to maintain a register of local ‘green’ tradespeople and holds draught busting workshops.
Part of Crystal Palace Transition Group, Palace Power held draught busting workshops and energy switching offers.
South East London Community Energy (SELCE)
SELCE offers a wide range of services to people with cold homes with high bills. For instance, they offer home visits and energy cafes offering advice on fuel debt, grants, energy reduction and switching to lower tariffs.
Arguably this is the most important part of a community energy project’s work. Whilst local authorities and even the business sector are starting to engage with renewable energies and efficiency measures, it is the community energy sector that has been most successful at educating the public in ways that effect behavioural change. This is because community groups tend to be thought more trustworthy than other organisations, and so they are well placed to “change hearts and minds”, to educate and inspire.