Help urged for local energy schemes

The Government needs to do more to boost local-scale energy projects such as community-owned solar panels and energy saving schemes, researchers have said.

Projects like community-owned solar panels need more Government support, it has been claimed
Projects like community-owned solar panels need more Government support, it has been claimed

Initiatives such as community renewables could make a large difference in tackling climate change and boosting energy security, according to a report from the University of East Anglia (UEA) and University of Sussex.

The Government has launched a new community energy strategy to help small-scale schemes get off the ground, but the researchers said better policy support was needed to boost grass-roots development of energy projects.

Researchers looked at 12 small scale projects including a solar panel project in Brighton, a home energy efficiency programme in Bristol, hydro-electricity generation in Cumbria and a community island buy-out on the Isle of Gigha, Scotland.

The study, which was published in the journal Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions, also involved interviewing people responsible for getting community energy projects going.

It found that: "While community energy has successfully grown up in between the cracks of the mainstream energy system it needs to be nurtured and supported... if it is to continue to grow and develop."

Lead researcher Dr Gill Seyfang, from UEA's school of environmental sciences, said: "The combined pressure of global climate change and threats to energy security mean that we will have to think more radically about sustainable energy.

"We wanted to know whether energy-saving community projects, run by voluntary organisations, schools, businesses and faith groups, could help.

"What we found is that there is a great deal of community enthusiasm for small scale innovative projects like this, but the resources available are not always enough to really help them flourish."

"What is really needed is flexible and tailored policy support at all levels. While technical advice is available through handbooks and toolkits, there are some really critical support needs in particular - from decision-making help to financial models and emotional stamina to keep going in challenging times.

"The community energy strategy has adopted many of our recommendations for supporting mentoring and intermediary organisations, but much more still needs to be done."

The Government needed to recognise that many community projects aimed at tackling fuel poverty and developing stronger communities, as well as saving or generating energy, and evaluation of such schemes needed to focus on those benefits not just on how much energy they produced.

Alasdair Cameron, r enewable energy campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said: "Community renewable energy projects have the potential to break the stranglehold of the big six power firms, generate income for local people and provide the nation with home-grown, clean energy.

"Instead of undermining investment in solar and wind, ministers must do much more to help communities reap the benefits of clean power.

"A good place to start would be to enable schools to borrow money to afford the upfront cost of solar panels."

A Department of Energy and Climate Change spokeswoman said: "The coalition is determined to unleash the potential of community energy, helping communities to achieve their ambitions and drive forward a decentralised energy revolution.

"We want to bring more communities together to help them save money."