Many people feel disengaged from climate change: it’s large and scary but the effects are also, so far at least, distant and unspecific. It’s rare to be able to identify and understand a direct cause and effect. Many of the steps required to address the issue also run contrary to much of our prevailing culture and the prevailing messages within our society, which has the effect of strengthening a sense of dissonance.
To make matters worse, the mechanisms used in the UK to shift capacity away from carbon-intensive generation towards low-carbon renewables have often alienated people who feel that their local environment and andscape is being changed by people and organisations that are distant and that they have no connection with (not even a retail connection because in the UK it has not been possible to sell electricity produced in an area to the people in that area).
It would be stretching things to claim that community energy can solve these issues but it has the potential to be a key ingredient in how we address them. Unlike commercial developments, community-owned renewable energy can strengthen local resilience far more than enhanced profit/dividend levels.
Together with environmental concerns, earning money or saving money is the most obvious reason why community energy projects get started. For almost all projects this will be in there somewhere as one of the aims. It can be:
- People in the community saving money through reduced heating bills as a result of an insulation project.
- People within a community investing in a local energy generation project like a hydro scheme or a wind turbine.
- The costs for maintaining a village hall being reduced as a result of a new heating system being installed or solar panels being installed on the roof.
- A community energy initiative erecting a wind turbine or taking a share in a commercial wind farm to generate an income, which is then ploughed back into other community projects.
Saving money, whether by individuals or community organisations, as a result of improving insulation is easy to understand – more heat is retained in the building so less is needed to maintain a comfortable ambient temperature. However earning money though renewable installations is less straightforward.
Heating or electricity costs can be offset by a reduced cost for fuel or by generating your own electricity via solar photovoltaic panels. So a building that was previously heated by an oil boiler will save money when this is replaced with a woodchip boiler because the cost of generating heat from woodchip is currently cheaper than oil. (The other option for a poorly heated building of course is to spend the same amount but heat it better.) Similarly, a building that uses a lot of electricity, whether for heating or other reasons, can save money by solar photovoltaic panels being installed that offset the amount of electricity used…
A fragment from Gordon’s Cowtan Community Energy: A Guide to Community-Based Energy Projects
Featured image credit: pixabay.com