Community Energy

What is community energy?

Community energy refers to the delivery of community-led renewable energy, energy demand reduction and energy supply projects, whether wholly owned and/or controlled by communities or through a partnership with commercial or public sector partners. (https://communityenergyengland.org)

At present, the poorest people in society pay a bigger proportion of their bills towards the move towards clean energy, as standing charges make up more of their bills and people on pay-as-you-go meters pay more per kwh.

Renewable energy technologies Heating our homes, workplaces and social spaces is a significant challenge in the context of decarbonisation. Taking premises off gas, to start using renewable technologies is becoming increasingly of interest to communities. Heat can be generated by burning biomass (usually wood or sometimes food waste), using ground source or air source or by using heat-generating solar panels. These technologies, particularly when coupled with energy efficiency interventions can create huge benefits and increased levels of comfort people and places.

Solar PV is a mature renewable energy technology, well suited to community renewable energy projects. Panels capture energy from the sun using photovoltaic cells. These cells do not need direct sunlight to work - they can still generate some electricity on a cloudy day. The cells convert sunlight into electricity, which can then be used directly on site (e.g. within a community building or home) or exported onto the grid. Community solar can be developed in many different ways, from installing small arrays on domestic properties to large arrays on community buildings or ground-mounted in the form of a solar park.

Wind turbines harness the power of the wind to use it to generate electricity. Planning restrictions  make it difficult to pursue a community wind power project Large windturbines or ones small enough to fit onto a house?

Hydro-power uses running water from a stream or river to generate electricity. Hydro systems  are more complex and need a wide range of expertise and resources to be successful. 

Energy storage is key to a renewable energy future. To store excess energy at times of peak generation and be able to use it at a later time brings about a fundamental change to how we generate and use energy. Battery technology prices falling and new technologies are being developed. 

(https://communityenergyengland.org) Electric Vehicles (EVs) There are many environmental benefits of a move to EVs . Growth in electric vehicles could save oil. Community energy groups can engage with transport in a variety of ways: community-owned electric vehicle charging infrastructure, community car-sharing clubs and community bus services. 

 

Solar PV benefits include:

  • Carbon reduction.

  • Increased renewable energy generation.

  • Increasing resource efficiency, harnessing unused roofs to generate energy.

  • New routes to engaging people in local action on climate change, fuel poverty, energy efficiency, innovation.

  • Increased energy awareness/literacy, carbon literacy

  • Reducing energy bills for those participating in renewable energy installations

  • Increased resilience.

  • Solar panels on community buildings (and schools) reduce running costs

  • Alleviating Fuel Poverty

  • Doing low-cost, high-return energy saving measures.

  • Better health and wellbeing 

  • Better support networks and social infrastructure.

 

How can community energy work?

Excess electricity generated from solar PV panel arrays can be exported to the national grid. This can provide a modest income in line with export tariffs (e.g., smart export guarantee), which are far below domestic electricity tariff rates, therefore meeting other local demand would be preferential from an economic point of view.

Options:

  • Direct connection of homes to a central solar array. In essence this would be a mini-grid, requiring new electrical infrastructure between properties. This can be rather complicated and may require each home to have a separate meter for solar PV use (enabling you to see who is using what energy) as well as billing considerations, if property owners are to be charged for their use. Cable costs and routing constraints (e.g., laying cables over others' land) can lead to quite a lot of complexity and cost here and we are yet to see this type of design work other than in off-grid locations in the UK. 

  • "Virtual connection" of solar PV generation across multiple properties to share the benefits of generation equitably. An example of this is an Energy Club (e.g., https://energylocal.org.uk/). This can work well when several generation locations (e.g., rooftops) and when there is a high level of interest from local property owners to get involved. In this situation, energy generation would meet property level demand and then export to the grid. The resulting financial (and carbon) benefits would be metered, calculated and shared equitably across energy club owners.

Although an energy club may not be maximising the technical side (e.g., local consumption of solar PV electricity), it does greatly reduce complexity and upfront costs, whilst providing a more inclusive approach to local energy development.

Could this be overcome by running a parallel scheme to fit more solar panels to domestic small business properties ie working out how many residents want solar panels and finding one company to fit at a discounted rate?

How does Energy Local work?

  • Energy Local has designed a local market in power via Energy Local Clubs. This enables households to club together to show when they are using local clean power when it is generated. The scheme gives generators a price for the power they produce, that reflects its true value, keeps more money local and reduces household electricity bills.

  • Households and small scale renewable generators as members form an Energy Local Club (ELC) -legally a Coop.  

  • Households have smart energy meters installed to show when and how much power they were using.

  • Members (households and generators) agree a price (“match tariff”) that will be paid to the generator when they match their electricity use to when electricity is generated locally, for example, turning their washing machine on when they know local solar energy is being generated.

  • The Club chooses a partner energy supplier (such as Octopus Energy) that sells the extra power they need when there is not enough local electricity generated. The supplier sends each household the bill for their total power use

  •  

Aims:

  • Develop and fund, own and facilitate renewable energy installations for the benefit of the community and the surrounding area.  

  • Reduce the community's carbon footprint; 

  • Secure more sustainable sources of low cost, renewable energy for the community’s use

  • Promote environmental awareness and energy efficiency.

  • Support community and environmental projects. 

  • Develop skills and resources to deliver other environmentally sustainable projects

  • Recycle any surplus funds back into projects addressing, for example, energy efficiency, sustainable transport or local food initiatives

Membership

Membership would be open to individuals aged 16 and over, corporate bodies or nominees of unincorporated associations. Members do not have to live in the Whitley Bay Big Local area to be a member; just have a wish to support our community. 

All members must agree to participate in general meetings and take an active interest in the operation and development of the project and its business. Members have a duty to respect the confidential nature of the business decisions. 

 

Funding

Develop a sound financial base to enable the membership to meet aims and develop further projects in the future.

Share Offer: Community energy schemes require upfront investment to pay for the installation of the scheme, and thereafter for maintenance and ongoing operation of the organisation. 

 

Development of the project – next steps

  • Organise a ‘“community energy” event, with presentations to promote positive action towards increasing  social and economic resilience to climate change. 

  • Recruit members 

  • Engage with potential seed funders- North Tyneside Council, North of Tyne Authority, Community Foundation.

community energy