Leading the way in community energy

Power of the Collective

Changing how we create and consume energy will have a big impact on our climate. Until recently energy generation has been provided by governments or large global corporations but that is changing.

During the last decade, there has been an increase in smaller, decentralised, renewable, community-owned energy sources, which has opened the door to community energy projects.

In 2018, 275 locally-owned and run community energy projects were active across England, Wales and Northern Ireland, supported by 46,000 members and employing 205 full-time equivalent staff.

These projects delivered energy capable of powering 64,000 UK homes and preventing 56,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent from entering the atmosphere annually – equal to 2,650 less cars driving for a year.

As well as the environmental benefits delivered, community energy projects often bring a range of co-benefits, including:

  • reducing fuel poverty through supplying low-cost energy
  • creating jobs while improving community cohesion and health and wellbeing.

Here are two great examples of community energy projects.

One Planet Middlesbrough

One Planet Middlesbrough is a community engagement programme aimed at creating a sustainable One Planet Living City.

Activities include energy efficiency initiatives to help tackle fuel poverty in the city, and foster behaviour changes to reduce both carbon emissions and energy use with a side impact of increasing household disposable income.

Middlesbrough has been a One Planet Living City accredited by sustainability charity Bioregional for a decade and was the second city globally to receive this status.

The council’s community engagement programme is managed by Middlesbrough Environment City and was supported with £1 million in National Lottery support in 2013. The five year project engaged residents in activity to promote sustainable living and improve the quality of life.

Training, awareness events and advice sessions were held to tell people about a Middlesbrough Council scheme that showed people how to get financial support for energy-saving measures and to accredited installers.

The more recent Affordable Warmth Partnership works with a group of charities and organisations to give the most vulnerable residents the support they need. Middlesbrough Environment City (MEC) co-ordinates the project and works with homeowners, Middlesbrough Council, the public health sector, charities and businesses.

In 2014, One Planet Middlesbrough’s team of energy champions had given advice to around 1,000 households and helped to start 800 fuel-saving activities, resulting in lifetime fuel bill savings in excess of £1.3 million and savings of almost 5,300 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, equal to saving 265,000 trees to capture the carbon .

In 2018 as a part of the programmed an Age UK advisor conducted home visits to people over 55, giving advice on energy efficiency and health & wellbeing.

The Islamic Diversity Centre has also reached out to older people and social isolated communities, delivering additional benefits of improved social cohesion and equity.

In 2020, Middlesbrough Environment City received just over £1.5 million in National Lottery funding for a five year partnership project building on their work to reduce the town’s carbon footprint. They are working to create sustained changes in individual, community and organisational behaviours across the town, including involving local young people in the decision-making that will see increased action on tackling climate change.

Drumlin Wind Energy Co-operative Limited

Drumlin Wind Energy Co-operative is Northern Ireland’s first community owned energy co-operative.

In 2012 the co-operative raised £2.7 million to build four turbines across Northern Ireland and in 2014 raised a further £1.2 million to construct two more community owned and managed turbines.

The 250,000 watt wind turbines operate in six geographically dispersed areas to help generate clean and green energy across the region. In March 2020, the combined production of all six turbines reached a record 413 megawatt-hour.

Through the generation of green, cleaner energy, each turbine provides 150 homes with electricity. The profits of the wind farm are channelled into community funds to support sustainability and community cohesion initiatives. A community educator has been employed to raise awareness in local schools about green energy. This has helped to inspire future generations and extend the impact of the co-operative beyond that of the construction of wind turbines alone.

“Children care, they are inventive and full of ideas, we recognise that future energy needs and the health of the planet will be in their hands. We have shown that local people and local communities can and do make a difference”

Karen, Member, Drumlin Co-operative.

An estimated 92 community organisations deliver energy efficiency within their communities in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Useful links to tools and resources for community energy-related projects:

Each of the devolved nations has a community energy network. Check out Community Energy Scotland, Community Energy Wales, Community Energy England and Northern Ireland Community Energy

Projects in a box’ is a how to guide to community energy projects, created by the Centre for Sustainable Energy

The CARES Community Energy Toolkit will guide you through the process of developing a renewable energy project

A How to guide to Community Energy created by the UK Government

Community Action Group Oxfordshire’s ‘How to Guide’ to running a thermal imaging project

The Carbon Co-op’s ‘People Powered Retrofit’ is a householder-led model for owner occupier retrofit. They also run training courses on whole-house retrofit

Some ideas from Low Carbon Hub on how to transition to a low carbon society

Check out Energy Systems Catapult for examples of the latest thinking about how our energy system might look in the future.

Ashden’s Liveable Cities programme has created the Sustainable City Region Network, to help local leaders realise their sustainability ambitions, while delivering wider benefits. In partnership with Friends of the Earth, Ashden have developed a climate action co-benefits toolkit for local authorities there is also a list of 31 actions that councils can take to tackle the climate emergency, with estimated carbon savings, costs and co-benefits.

It is recommended that all community groups inform their local authority of these useful resources to help maximise the impact of their work.