People power: the world of community energy
28 April 2014 | OVO Energy
From beer-loving locals who are powering a solar-powered brewery in Australia, to the Danes buying shares in wind turbines, hundreds of global communities are getting together and organising their own energy sources. It’s something of an energy revolution, and it’s known as ‘community energy’.
The UK government defines community energy as, “collective action to reduce, purchase, manage, and generate energy.” Projects like these “have an emphasis on local engagement, local leadership and control, and the local community benefiting collectively from the outcomes.”
In the UK, it’s a bold step away from The Big Six energy suppliers calling the shots. And there’s many ways it can happen.
- Use solar panels, wind turbines, or water power.
- Switch to a renewable heat source – like heat pumps or biomass boilers.
- Bring about energy-saving measures – cavity walls or solid wall insulation, funded wholly or partly by the Green Deal.
- Work with the local Distribution Network Operator (DNO).
- Buy heating oil and come off the gas grid.
- Switch electricity or gas suppliers, together.
Community Energy England are a non-profit organisation representing many of these co-operative groups, giving the people involved a collective forum and a unified voice.
“By placing democratic control, shared benefits and active participation at the centre of project delivery,” _say the CEE, “community energy can create a foundation for the significant infrastructural and cultural change we need to reduce the impact of climate change and increase our energy security.”_
And renewable energy communities will play a big part in the directive – allowing people to generate their own electricity and giving them more control over how, and when, they use it. Essentially, taking the power back.
So far, the community-led energy champs are Germany and Denmark. Both countries have proved immensely successful in generating green energy.
Deutschland is enjoying an ‘Energiewende’ (energy transformation). Following the Fukushima disaster in 2011, Angela Merkel announced an about turn in the country’s energy policy – moving away from a dependence on nuclear energy. Instead, German leaders encouraged investment in renewables – which now account for a third of the nation’s electricity! Germany aims to be free of nuclear energy by 2022.
The Danes are also pioneers in community energy. Few individuals can afford to buy a wind turbine outright, so people there have long been encouraged to purchase shares in wind turbine cooperatives.
Denmark also believes in the ‘right to invest’. This means, on principle, project developers give locals priority when it comes to financing any community energy ventures.
Currently, most of Denmark’s wind-energy is locally owned – by 2013, 70-80% of existing wind turbines were owned by communities.
With all that blazing sunshine, it's no wonder communities in Australia are investing in solar power.
There's now over 70 community energy projects underway and more than 90 groups developing projects.
Ecopower, in Belgium’s Flanders region, generates and supplies electricity to its customers. With humble beginnings (the idea was formed by locals sat around a kitchen table in 1991), Ecopower is a now successful business, with 35 staff offering over 50,000 citizens a share in the ownership and profits of the project.
As a supplier, Ecopower is now helping to promote CE right across the EU too. The community is in control – they get to decide if they want to give out low-cost or free electricity to their members.
Buan County community energy is a small scheme in South Korea, generating power from solar PV, solar thermal and geothermal heating. Despite the country having a centralised energy system, it’s heavily dominated by support for nuclear power. This project was “inspired by resistance to nuclear energy”, along with the mutual ethics of its members.
Energy Co-op Aysén in Chile is a community group based in Patagonia. The group, formed in 2014, are developing an alternative to large-scale hydroelectric power. “They have plans for community development and ownership of wood-fuelled heating systems.” Chile’s current, centralised energy system is monopolised by large firms – the community approach is a big challenge here.
The CRELUZ group in Brazil own 6 small hydroelectric plants. Based in the Rio Grande Sol region, they’ve been generating and supplying electricity to nearby residents for many years – their main aim is to provide electricity for rural communities. Currently, the cooperative is powering 22,000 homes. Socially conscious, CRELUZ also provide free or discounted electricity for impoverished families.
Community energy works. It’s bringing us closer towards a greener, cheaper energy culture. Local communities all over the planet are working together, to mutually enjoy the many benefits of their very own energy supply.