Community Energy covers the activity of a range of locally organised community groups who deliver projects, such as solar photovoltaics (PV), energy efficiency retrofits and low carbon heat, and who provide support to communities, for example fuel poverty advice to help reduce utility bills.
Groups are often made up of volunteers but are becoming more formalised and professional in recent years with some now employing full time staff. The groups typically raise funds through community share offers and secure support from agencies ranging from the national lottery to philanthropic funds. They are also increasingly working with local government to deliver projects.
How can community energy help to make the difference in meeting cities’ net zero targets?
Community engagement is becoming an increasingly important element of climate action with government policies requiring much greater public participation to achieve Net Zero. It is often essential to involve communities in the decision-making process for the energy transition, to help roll out new technologies in our homes and neighbourhoods. Community energy groups are well placed to encourage local behaviour change on energy and beyond including shifts in transport usage, water efficiency and the development of green spaces.
The decentralised form of governance offered by community energy provides a more civic and democratic empowerment of communities to support climate action. There are several ways in which these community groups can help cities to meet their net zero targets:
- Project delivery: Delivering projects on local community buildings such as schools, GP surgeries and places of worship. These sites do not generate sufficient returns for commercial developers but are valued by local people who are willing to invest in them.
- Community engagement: Supporting local authority climate emergency plans to close the community engagement gap around challenging but necessary climate actions like area-wide retrofit. For retrofit, this could include identifying suitable households, coordinating between communities and contractors and supporting residents through the build.
- Awareness: Raising awareness of environmental and fuel poverty issues in communities by increasing the knowledge about options like heat pumps, solar PV, smart meters and switching energy tariffs, more efficient white goods, and electric vehicle charging.
Groups can also spearhead network and partnership building across a range of important local stakeholders, helping communicate programmes set out in a local council climate action plans. The relationship between local government and community energy groups can be symbiotic: they can work to deliver benefits and opportunities to both parties.
Councils are constrained in a number of ways at the present time, feeling the impacts of long-term funding cuts and also the challenges of Covid, with limited funding and finance available to deliver climate action. Community groups can raise or match funds through community share offers; provide technical assistance on projects; support buy-in from local stakeholders and provide localised knowledge. This empowers local communities in the delivery of climate action plans and enhances transparency as to how climate decisions are made.
With local action so critical to achieving future carbon reduction targets, it highlights the responsibility of national Governments to support community climate initiatives. This could be through funding support for the sector to mandating increased local engagement in the design and implementation of climate policies.