Community energy works. Just ask Europe.

By James Fritz Monday 28 April 2014

Power to the people

The UK energy market is on the cusp of a revolution. The country is disillusioned with the current big six and in dire need of a new model. Something needs to be done to create a greener, fairer market for everyone. But is community energy really the way forward? And is it even possible to achieve?

The short answer is yes on both counts. We only have to look to Europe to see that not only is community energy widespread, it has also been incredibly successful. 

Germany is in the midst of what has been termed the Energiewende (energy transformation). Following the Fukushima disaster, Angela Merkel announced an about turn in the country’s energy policy, moving away from a dependence on nuclear energy and instead encouraging investment in renewables. They’re already off to an incredible start. In 2012 green entrepreneurs provided a massive 22 per cent of Germany’s electricity. 

Community led renewable energy is at the heart of this transformation. In the UK only 10% of renewable energy is currently owned by individuals or communities. In Germany that number is a massive 65%. There are currently 1.3 million renewable energy producers across the country, all helping to break the stranglehold of major power suppliers. 

In 2006 the village of Juehnde became the first in Germany to be completely energy self sufficient. The municipality powers the community using bio-energy, such as methane from manure and wood chips. Not only is the scheme is so successful that it meets all their energy needs, providing enough energy to heat and power the village, it produces twice as much electricity as is required, meaning it is able to sell the excess back to the national grid. Yearly, Juehnde is able to turn over a profit €350,000. Not too shabby. 

In the south-west of the country, the little hamlet of Feldheim is also making waves with its energy independence. The whole village is powered by local wind turbines and a biogas heat plant powered by slurry from the surrounding farms. But they didn’t stop there. Once they were producing all their energy renewably, the residents decided that the next step would be to end their dependence on the major providers completely. When their energy provider refused to sell them their part of the grid, they all chipped in and had their own built. Now each villager pays 31 per cent less for their electricity and the project has created about 30 jobs. There’s only been one downside - the success of their scheme has brought thousands of visitors to the sleepy village, much to the annoyance of the private residents. 

Denmark is also a pioneer in community energy, offering families a tax exemption for generating their own electricity. Because many cannot afford purchasing a wind turbine outright, people have long been encouraged to purchase shares in wind turbine cooperatives. There are now currently over 100,000 Danish families belonging to wind cooperatives, and 86% of the countries wind-energy is locally owned. 

Indeed, such is the success of community wind energy that the Danish island of Samsø claims to be the largest carbon-neutral settlement on the planet. 

Community energy works. It is at the heart of both Germany and Denmark’s admirable - and successful - drives towards a greener, cheaper energy culture where local communities can come together to mutually enjoy the benefits of local energy supply. Now it’s time to embrace it in Britain.

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