People Power: Shining a light on community energy
The power of communities
With the latest COP25 talks on the global climate crisis demonstrating a ‘staggering failure of leadership’, the argument for localised, grassroots and citizen-led climate action on becomes increasingly powerful. At Nesta Challenges, our mission is to inspire and support smart, new solutions to big societal problems – and we know that communities are often best placed to find those solutions.
Community energy puts power into the hands of citizens and is one of the ways local people can come together to take collective action on climate change and benefit directly from decarbonisation. From the inner-city solar projects run by Repowering London that enable residents on housing estates to invest in renewable energy and share the benefits, to the Fintry wind project in rural Stirlingshire that is pioneering new joint-venture agreements with wind farm developers, community groups across the UK are driving positive social and environmental change through low-carbon energy projects.
End of an era?
Until now, the success of these projects has mainly relied on the feed-in-tariff: a government subsidy for small-scale renewable energy generation that saw a huge increase in the number of community energy groups in the UK. But with the recent closure of the feed-in-tariff and move towards subsidy-free renewable energy generation, community energy groups will need to quickly innovate and adopt new business models in order to survive. For groups that are largely resourced by volunteers and minimal funding, this is a big ask.
The innovation challenge
We are already seeing rapid innovation in the energy sector, with the falling price of renewables, improvements in energy storage and grid flexibility technologies. Since Nesta Challenges launched the Dynamic Demand Prize in 2013, there has been an upsurge in private sector investment in demand response and flexibility markets, as well as significant government and regulator support for smart, flexible energy systems.
But are these energy innovations benefiting communities as well as individual consumers? How can we enable citizens, private and public sector to work together to develop new models for local energy systems? How can we ensure that everyone has a voice in how these systems are designed, and distribute the benefits equally?
These are just some of the questions that Nesta Challenges will be discussing at our roundtable event on The Future of Community Energy. On the 19th February, we will be convening experts from across the sector to discuss the big challenges and opportunities for innovation in supporting local, sustainable and community-driven energy systems. With representatives from government, community energy groups, energy companies and the wider energy industry, this event is an exciting chance to discuss the potential for new models for community energy through challenge-driven innovation.
The energy transition is a large and urgent challenge, but it presents opportunities too. If we get the right people together now, we can generate effective and equitable paths towards decarbonisation and thriving communities for tomorrow.
Sarah Holliday is a Researcher at Nesta Challenges and can be found online @smgholliday.