First of all we’d like to say a huge thank you to everyone who contributed their time and energy to our series of London events – including those who attended! We were pleased to also attend the benchmark Community Energy England conference in Manchester and the excellent Community Energy South workshop in Lewes.
‘Energising Communities’ – annual conference
Our Fortnight kicked off with our annual conference at City Hall, which drew a decent crowd despite the blazing hot weather outside! The theme was ‘Energising Communities’ and we heard from an inspiring array of speakers, followed by a busy networking session.
We presented our project map, a useful snapshot of London’s activity, which shows the spread of 51 energy initiatives from our 23 member groups across London. The map is not complete as we have several sites to add – showing initiatives relating to energy efficiency, awareness-raising and fuel poverty.
During his talk, Chief Executive of National Energy Action, Adam Scorer highlighted the importance of addressing fuel poverty: “It’s pervasive – it’s everywhere. It’s in places you don’t imagine – it’s in every community and there are 350,000 households living with it. The long term solution that most people would agree on is the requirement for housing stock that works: Houses that don’t make you ill – that are warm, dry and efficient”.
In addition to improving our homes and public buildings, Adam observed that reaching the most isolated and vulnerable people to offer support and advice can be difficult – due to language, mobility and social barriers. Awareness-raising ‘energy’ activities such as those demonstrated by CEL member groups, are ideal opportunities to help navigate these barriers. Adam also noted that whilst Community Energy has an important role to play in developing technical and financial energy innovations, it is likely that the related social and economic innovations will have long-lasting and significant impacts.
Our final speaker, Campaign Director for Friends of the Earth, Liz Hutchins gave a rousing speech which reminded us of the bigger picture: “We know that every percentage of a degree represents whole parts of the planet becoming uninhabitable, it represent hundreds of thousands of people being displaced from their homes … What’s exciting about being here today is that it’s renewable energy that presents the brightest beacon of hope for this situation. Renewable energy has been on an incredible technical and economic revolution on as scale we need to see across the sectors. But it’s also communities that are demonstrating leadership in driving the way forward for a low carbon future!”
Liz went on to describe the realities of community energy in places around the country. She remembered the sheer joy in Preston, when residents learned they had been successful in their attempt to block planning applications for fracking:
“it was like Christmas and a world cup win in one… strangers were hugging and cars tooting their horns at the incredible victory for the whole community”
But, like a dark twist in a movie, the Government called in the decision and decided to impose fracking anyway…
In an impressive show of community strength and energy, residents from pensioners to toddlers have been protesting outside Preston Town Hall, every day since the decision in January 2017. To learn more about the threat fracking presents to the planet – and sign the petition! – visit Friends of the Earth.
Perhaps our favourite takeaway message from the conference was summarised beautifully by Liz, based on her experience working with energised communities:
“if you nurture people power, it’s also a renewable resource”
Programme Manager, Dr Sylvia Baron (GLA) announced a second round of the London Community Energy Fund, which will target a broader range of energy projects and includes a ‘fast track’ solar strand. Details to follow, see GLA website for updates.
Age of Stupid – film, fundraiser and panel discussion!
Next on the agenda was our film screening and discussion, which doubled up as a fundraiser for the solar project proposed by CEL member Hackney Energy and the Rio Cinema in Dalston. This would see the Rio become the first solar cinema in Britain!
Despite the still glorious sunshine, the ten year old film still helped us to raise £90 towards the project, which should be eligible for the ‘fast-track’ solar strand of the London Community Energy Fund 2nd Round, designed to help community energy groups benefit from the last of the Feed-in-Tariffs.
This film is excellent and should probably be on the school curriculum. For those who haven’t seen it, Pete Postlethwaite played a survivor in a post-apocalyptic world – documenting everything on earth he could find as a warning to future civilisations. Sadly, ten years on and Pete Postlethwaite has passed away, Donald Trump is President of America and the Great Barrier Reef is technically dead – making the film is even more chilling.
The panel which followed featured Directors of community energy projects, Hackney Energy, SELCE and Banister House, as well as climate action group, 10:10. The discussion was focused on how local energy initiatives can empower people to respond to climate change – and genuinely ‘scary movies’ like the Age of Stupid!
Leila Fortunato, Director of Banister House, described that for her, one of the biggest benefits of the community energy project was that it provided opportunities for paid internships for 20 young people. Her own children took part in the scheme and Leila described their increased confidence and sense of responsibility after having the chance to learn new skills, speak in public, help fit solar panels and even visit Parliament!
Community Energy Open Space!
Our final event for the fortnight was a relaxed session with an informal agenda that developed from attendees’ questions and interests. Over mainly vegan snacks and wine, a variety of discussion points were pursued. These were then developed through three break out groups. Key points that arose include:
- It is easier to find sites for energy generation through ‘warm leads’ such as personal networks and existing relationships.
- It’s helpful to develop positive relations with councils, local influencers and like-minded interest groups.
- Technical support for community energy projects is available through groups such as Pure Leapfrog and Hive advice.
Discussion point from the Break Out groups:
Group One – How to set up a group
1. Be careful about what installers you choose!
Installers with some community energy recommendations include:
– Osborne Energy
– UK solar
2. There is a lot of support out there! E.g. Hive advice
3. Pure Leapfrog to offer workshops for community groups focused on marketing, legals etc.
Group Two– Tech considerations
– pros and cons of battery packs
– pros and cons of many vs few solar panels
– How to match generation with site usage
– How to measure generation and export? CT metres!
Group Three – Community Engagement’
How to include external community?
1. ‘Go to the places they go!’
2. Use existing networks with shared values
How to engage volunteers/ avoid burnout:
1. Volunteer development
2. Allow volunteers to take ownership of projects