Creating resilient energy supply for communities

Resilience is a key sustainability and climate adaptation concept – perhaps more closely associated with “developing countries” – concerning how we will cope with the impacts of climate change on our lives and communities. But what about resilience on your doorstep? How would you and your community cope with the impacts of climate change?

Unless you live on the Somerset Levels or the south coast of England, you are unlikely to be immediately impacted by global warming in the near term – but what about your energy supply? How resilient is your electricity and heat provision?

Our current centralised system of generation far removed from consumption means we can supply power at scale – coupled with the National Grid, we can send electricity all around the country. But it has the effect of separating our perception of energy generation from our own energy behaviour and choices – as well as presenting a host of complex challenges to “balance” the system, avoiding resonance, and maintaining sufficient backup sources ready to spring online when the nation boils their kettles simultaneously. Our heat is supplied predominantly through the gas grid – dependent on imports from abroad, highly influenced by the political situation, and then delivered to our homes and businesses with varying volume and pressure.

What about if we could generate energy where we needed it? That would avoid the need for massive infrastructure investment, which would cut the cost of our energy supplies, and reduce pressure on the current electricity and gas grids. This approach has been widely and successfully used in other countries – notably Germany – putting power generation in the hands of local communities and users. It was also strongly advocated by the last coalition government – a poster child of the Conservative – Liberal energy policy.

So is it just a relic or for our Teutonic neighbours? The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Department for Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs clearly think not. With £15m to distribute to community groups, the Rural Community Energy Fund is being used to explore all sorts of decentralised energy systems across England and Wales. By funding feasibility studies for community-owned renewables, charities and parish councils, these groups are able to develop local, resilient, low carbon energy systems, which present value for money to end users, and return benefits into the community. We’ve seen schemes use the proceeds from energy supplies to fund fuel poverty work, issue grants for local projects, roll out broadband and more.

‘The Parish Council is looking forward to working with Carbon Smart to explore the possibilities for a renewable energy project in Woolpit. With an emerging Neighbourhood Plan for the village, this is a particularly opportune time to identify a local environmentally friendly scheme to benefit the community’.

John Guyler, Chairman of Woolpit Parish Council 

But beyond the financial return, local energy networks raise awareness about how energy is generated, and drive more conscious “pro-sumer” behaviour in energy use. Residents on the Isle of Eigg have a traffic light system indicating how much power is being generated by their wind turbines, hydro power plant and solar panels – telling you if it’s a good day to run your washing machine and your dishwasher simultaneously – or not! This proactive use of energy is drastically reducing the Islanders’ carbon footprint and energy costs – shifting consumption away from diesel generators to their mixed renewables sources – giving them energy independence with their home-grown power supply.

Woolpit Parish Council in Suffolk have successfully secured a grant from Rural Community Energy Fund (RCEF) to explore renewable heat systems for the key facilities in the village – a health centre and a primary school. This is great opportunity for the village to assess the potential for a biomass heat network to improve the resilience of these core community facilities by reducing energy costs and generating new revenue streams, increasing the viability of these services for the future. I’m particularly excited about how a local renewable energy supply can augment the Neighbourhood Plan for the parish, currently in development. This will put the Council on the front foot when planning the development of the village, and help shape a resilient, future-proof energy supply for their community.

 


RCEF is a £15 million programme, delivered by WRAP and jointly funded by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (DBEIS). It supports rural communities in England to develop renewable energy projects which provide economic and social benefits to the community.

For more information on RCEF, visit www.wrap.org.uk/renewables