Community energy presents an opportunity for us to reflect upon our relationship with energy.
It has the potential to produce significant benefits for Northern Ireland.
This is particularly relevant against the backdrop of rising fuel prices and fuel poverty. It is also important given the Programme for Government’s commitment to achieving 20% of electricity consumption from renewable sources and 4% renewable heat by 2015; and the move to a low carbon economy which will require changes in the way we generate, buy and distribute our energy.
In order to maximise this opportunity, communities need to be an integral part of energy policy alongside government and the private sector. This has been clearly recognised by government. The Rt Hon Edward Davey MP, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, has stated that ‘I want to see a community energy revolution in the UK.’ The emphasis of community energy projects is on local engagement, leadership and control, and project outcomes which benefit local communities. They can be developed by a broad range of organisations including community groups, individuals, businesses, landowners, local authorities and housing associations. A wide range of different types of community energy projects can exist.
Examples could include:
- Installation of renewable electricity systems such as a wind turbine, a hydro scheme or solar photovoltaics. For example, a community group could install its own wind turbine thereby providing an income for over 20 years;
- Installation of renewable heating systems such as solar thermal systems, biomass boilers or heat pumps. These will help to heat buildings and save money on energy bills;
- Installation of energy saving measures in local people’s homes in order to tackle fuel poverty. This could involve cavity wall insulation; roof and loft installation; insulating tanks and pipes etc;
- Initiatives which aim to reduce the carbon footprint of a local area, provide energy advice or encourage behaviour change;
- Installation of smart meters to help people manage their energy usage;
- Smart grid projects which can help to move energy demand away from peak times of the day;
- Individuals in the local area coming together to purchase heating oil in bulk thereby lowering their fuel bills;
- Collective switching – consumers could unite with the support of local authorities and third sector organisations to negotiate a cheaper tariff with energy suppliers.