10 ways we can reclaim our energy supply

Would you like to live in a zero carbon future, where a whole new approach to energy has delivered benefits not just for the planet, but also for people and communities?

Rethinking how we access the energy we need is a key challenge as we work to build a zero carbon future. Changing our approach to the production and ownership of energy — who generates it, and who profits — could have many wider benefits, including for people and communities that could benefit financially from local renewable energy projects.

This is number four in a series of articles pulling out some of the most powerful ‘good ideas’ from the Centre for Alternative Technology’s new report, Zero Carbon Britain: Making it Happen. The report looks beyond the technical aspects of zero carbon, to explore how we can overcome the social, political and economic barriers that stand in the way of change.

Innovative models of energy production, ownership, distribution and finance are already being developed in the UK and in a number of countries around the world. We’ve gathered 10 of the most innovative ideas included in the report that have the potential to help speed up and scale up a shift to zero carbon. These simple changes could have transformational effects.

Making change happen

31) Reclaiming our power

Repowering London is a not-for-profit organisation that specialises in co-producing community energy programmes with community groups and local authorities. They support communities to deliver, own and manage renewable energy projects that provide direct benefits to citizens.

Lambeth Council is partnering with Repowering London to offer community shares and raise citizen loans. The aim is to raise £180K to invest in community owned solar projects on housing estates in Brixton.

To find out more visit Making it Happen page 253.

32) Invest in energy for people, not profit

Nottingham City Council is the first city to become a fully licensed independent energy supplier. Its company Robin Hood Energy is the first local authority-owned energy company run on a not-for-profit basis since the market was nationalised in 1948 [source 1]. Bristol City Council has set up Bristol Energy — a municipal energy company owned wholly by the council. It aims to reinvest profits to fight fuel poverty and support locally generated renewable energy. Thamesway Energy is a Municipally Owned Energy Service Company (MO-ESCO) with renewable energy assets in Woking and Milton Keynes. Energy is distributed over a private-wire electricity network and a heat distribution network.

To find out more visit Making it Happen pages 227 and 200.

33) Take the grid back into public ownership

Concerns have been voiced that National Grid, which maintains the long-distance transmission lines, and the 14 distribution network operators (DNOs), who distribute electricity around regions, are not investing sufficiently in upgrading the grid to allow for more distributed, renewable energy. A publicly owned grid could better deliver the necessary investment and improvements — as is the case across Germany, where this infrastructure investment is seen as being in the common good.

To find out more visit Making it Happen page 86.

34) Develop a “farmers market” for electricity

The ideal model for small/distributed generators is to be able to sell directly to customers in a way that shares the benefits. For example, in Wales TGV Hydro are developing a system that would allow communities to buy electricity directly from local renewable suppliers. This requires the community buying the energy and the community energy scheme to be on the same grid (connected to the same substation) and also needs an agreement with an existing licensed supplier. [2]

To find out more visit Making it Happen page 221 and 224.

35) Make it easier to fund community energy schemes

In Denmark and Germany, cooperatives and larger scale citizen ownership models have contributed to a rapid expansion of renewables, whilst sharing the profits.

Citizen and community finance models are now increasing in the UK — examples include Abundance Investment which offers debentures for small scale investors, and Pure Leapfrog which provides affordable finance through a Community Energy Fund.

There are also community banks, such as Robert Owen Community Banking, which seek to invest in community energy projects. The County of Hampshire is in the process of establishing a community bank and cites the example of the German banking model in supporting renewable energy as an inspiration. [3]

To find out more visit Making it Happen page 212.

36) Encourage inclusivity with crowd funded projects

Most solar panels in the UK are installed by homeowners with capital to spare or larger companies linked to landowners. Community groups only own a very small percentage of the installed capacity. Brixton Energy, a renewable energy co-operative, used crowd-funding to finance a solar array in a social housing estate in Brixton and offered residents of the estate a lower minimum investment threshold (£50) compared to outside investors (£250). [3]

To find out more visit Making it Happen page 183.

37) Provide pay as you save loans

Cornwall Council has supported a wide range of community energy projects throughout the county through a revolving investment fund of £2 million. The projects include electric vehicles, energy efficiency and renewable energy, including geothermal, marine, biogas and solar.

To find out more visit Making it Happen page 200.

38) Support wide-scale transition with national policy

Launched in 2010 ‘Energiewende’ is Germany’s ‘Energy Transformation’ to replace fossil fuels and nuclear with renewable energy and cut emissions. It embraces micro-generation and micro-ownership. According to 2010 figures, over 50% of renewable energy capacity is owned by individuals or farmers in Germany — the Big Four energy companies own just 6.5%!

To find out more visit Making it Happen page 231.

39) Make pension funds more secure by investing in renewables

Many pension funds are invested in fossil fuels — which may become stranded assets, so divesting to renewables can make things more secure in the longer term. Lancashire County Pension Fund has committed approximately £200 million to low carbon projects, including a £12 million investment in Westmill Solar, a community solar project.

To find out more visit Making it Happen page 200.

40) Support programmes that bring energy generation into collective ownership

In Germany, there is an increasing trend towards bringing energy supply and distribution networks into public ownership through ‘Stadtwerke’ (municipal energy companies owned by the local authority) and through local co-operatives.

To find out more visit Making it Happen page 229.

Making it happen

The shift to zero carbon energy is actually one of the most exciting opportunities in human history. It offers many benefits as well as more inclusive ownership of clean energy sources — it offers cleaner air, affordable, accessible transport, reduced obesity, improved health and more jobs.

You can download the full Making it Happen report here, including a ‘Postcard from the future’ offering a vision of a zero carbon energy system (page 19). You can find more information on the Centre for Alternative Technology’s work around powering-up clean energy systems in our 2013 report Zero Carbon Britain: Rethinking the Future.

The Centre for Alternative Technology also offers a wide range of training in renewable energy systems — from short courses to postgraduate programmes — visit http://www.cat.org.uk/.

Sources

1. Pastor-Vicedo, R. (2016) Regulation and Compliance Manager, Robin Hood Energy. Interview with L. Hopkinson, CAT, 23/03/16. Personal Communication.

2. Blake, C. (2016) Presentation to Rapid Energy Transitions Workshop. CAT, 29 April 2016.

3. Johnson, V.C.A. and Hall, S. (2014) Community energy and equity: The distributional implications of a transition to a decentralised electricity system. People, Place and Policy, 8:3, pp. 149–167.