Community Energy for All

Job creation. Tackling fuel poverty. Increased environmental awareness. These are some ofthe outcomes that motivate community energy groups. Many community energy groups channel their Feed-in-Tariff (FiT) income into community benefit funds that are used to offer grants to local community groups. These grants fund activities that support and strengthen their local communities, helping to deliver social, environmental and economic benefits.  Yet, what we often hear is that community energy groups are eager to deepen and broaden their community impact, beyond offering grants. They want to play a more direct role in supporting local residents affected by fuel poverty. There is also interest in supporting more people in their local community to gain greater knowledge and confidence to tackle climate change.

Through our Powering Up project we have been exploring approaches to stimulating sustained grassroots action on energy which is genuinely empowering, improves household and community-scale energy resilience, and builds agency within these local communities and their institutions. We’ve found that offering a simple, hands-on activity makes community energy more tangible and accessible and is an effective way to get people talking about collective action on energy. It helps individuals rethink their assumption that you need to be an expert to be able to bring about change within the energy system and demonstrates that well-known local people can play a vital role in providing knowledge of the community.

We’ve found that starting with some practical hands-on activities which engage with the basics of energy efficiency, such as preparing a meal in a slow cooker and making your own draught excluder snakes, has been a good way to engage people who haven’t previously engaged with community energy activity. Informal events (and those with free refreshments!) are more likely to attract people who might find a chaired meeting with an agenda quite daunting. They’re easy to run, low cost and suitable for local volunteers to replicate. We had a different experience with trialling the use of thermal-imaging technology. We had hoped that by surveying homes, using the technology to generate a visual picture of where the house is losing heat would engage residents. But the only people who were really interested were local energy experts and professionals.

Overall, a more delivery-focused approach to initial engagement has led to increasingly meaningful and wide reaching energy conversations, though it does bring about its own challenges. There’s a constant tension between our attempts to build and keep the momentum up and our aim to build capacity amongst residents, so that they increasingly take on leadership roles.

We’ve committed to sharing our insights, resources and easy-to-use tools as we proceed for use across the community energy sector. And we’re interested to hear your insights as well, so together we can make ‘community energy for all’ a reality. Here are couple of the blogs we produced so far:

Harriet Samson on what we've learned from the community engagement stage of the project.

Ellie Stevens on how offering an easy-entry, hands-on activity – like turning old tights into draught excluders – makes community energy more accessible.