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Community energy

Feed-in Tariff cuts not the end

There have been a number of concerns raised recently about the future of community energy – with some local groups understandably worried about cuts to Feed-in Tariff rates. However Graham Ayling, Head of Energy Saving Trust Foundation, thinks its time is coming.

He said: “There’s no denying that the past year has been incredibly tough for community energy groups who’ve put their heart and soul into projects, only to have to go back to square one as government policy changed. However, this is an incredibly resilient sector, full of people determined to drive forward action on climate change and bring about a fairer, more democratic energy sector. It isn’t about to roll-over and give up.”

“In the short-term, there’s still a lot going on as many community groups pre-registered for the Feed-in Tariff (FiTs) so their projects should go ahead. For example, there’s a great project we’ve been involved with in Swansea, where the council is setting up a community solar PV scheme in some of its most deprived areas, with the aim to directly benefit those wards. These schemes will make the sector stronger, generating income for new community projects, as well as renewable energy.”

New models for green energy generation

There have been lots of projections saying solar PV will reach grid parity in the next few years, and these economics could mean solar no longer needs financial support to thrive. In the meantime, there are plenty of options to explore for enterprising community organisations and social enterprises. Ayling explained:

“Potentially, communities could choose to buy into existing commercial installations such as wind and PV farms. Then there’s direct supply – selling electricity to the site where its installed, at retail rather than wholesale price. This could be a big opportunity for motivated local authorities and businesses to buy into the most ethical energy out there, benefiting the community as well as the environment.

“We’ve also had a role in another interesting scheme in Wales; the Welsh Government-supported Energy Localpilot. This looks at using solar as a starting point for local energy management and behaviour change, it’s a step towards peer-to-peer energy sales – selling the excess electricity you generate to your neighbours. This really is making use of local renewables in the local area and, if successful, could be a game-changer.”

Potential in storage

Energy storage is beginning to attract mainstream buzz – and Ayling is not for dampening the enthusiasm. He said:

“There’s a pilot happening in the south west to install a large solar PV system with battery storage. The great thing about that is it’s the start of a move towards self-sufficiency and tackling the issue of intermittent supply that’s often associated with solar, while also helping to integrate with the grid.

“It’s quite difficult to tell exactly how fast things are going to move on energy storage, but we hear that 20GW of storage projects are already planned in the UK, and there are lots of clever controls and software becoming available, to enable operators to offer multiple energy services. It looks like industry is ready to go.”

A shared interest with business

The Paris climate agreement may well change the game for renewable partnerships – and Ayling is convinced that communities can play a big role, if they can find mutually beneficial ways to work with businesses looking to make big energy changes. He said:

“A number of big corporates have made ambitious pledges on renewables – with some saying they’re looking to go 100 per cent renewable. The question is, can we reach out and line them up with community organisations who could provide some of that energy? This is something we’re exploring at the Foundation, with our networks of communities and corporates.

“You could imagine a situation where supermarkets or DIY chains could host renewable installations and buy the electricity at a rate that works for both them and, most importantly, the community. Standard contracts for energy schemes along these lines could also reduce legal costs for community groups.”