Getting communities working together to harness renewable energy is the key to its success

Robin Nicholson

Earlier this month, I went to the Association for the Conservation of Energy’s parliamentary reception where energy secretary Ed Davey elegantly sidestepped criticisms of the Green Deal. 

What I didn’t know was that coincidentally this event was in the middle of the first Community Energy Fortnight which Davey is so enthusiastically supporting; a year ago he launched the Manifesto for Community Energy and the government is due to publish its Community Energy Policy any time soon. 

It may be early days for community energy in the UK but Germany shows us how it can be done

Led by the Co-op, our first Community Energy Fortnight brought together the National Trust, the Church of England, Forum for the Future and the Women’s Institute to organise 18 events across the country. One was organised by Ouse Valley Energy Services Company (OVESCO) in the delightful community-developed Linklater Pavillion in Lewes. 

OVESCO now has five PV installations on local roofs totalling 191 KW; starting with Harveys’ Brewery and then a nursery, a farm and three schools who get free electricity in exchange for the lease of their roof, they have bigger aspirations. An inspirational afternoon was spent listening to a range of local community energy groups sharing experiences.

The community key to unlocking renewable energy was demonstrated by the Co-op poll that showed 49% of people would support a wind turbine being erected within two miles of their home; but this rises to 68% if the projects were to be community owned, when opposition drops to a mere 7%.

It may be early days for community energy in the UK but Germany shows us how it can be done; 22% of Germany’s electricity is from renewables, 51% of which are owned by individuals or groups and there are 586 Community Energy Co-ops. In comparison their Big Four only produce 6.5%. At 4% return and with many south-ish facing roofs, why aren’t we all doing it collectively? Then the challenge is to get it looking really good as well.

Robin Nicholson is a senior partner of Cullinan Studio