Can community energy schemes help the UK reach net-zero?
According to the Energy Saving Trust, anywhere could be a potential energy generation source. From rooftops and rivers to a windy hilltop, alternative energy generation in the community could be the key to managing and generating clean energy for communities across the UK.
Community energy projects (CEP) can happen anywhere from an urban neighbourhood to a remote village. The installation of solar panels or wind turbines can harness sun and wind at local level, while awareness campaigns can bring community energy to wider attention.
On the path to net-zero
The Welsh government is very clear about driving the transition to renewable energy by 2030, including a commitment to making the public sector carbon neutral and generating 70% of electricity from renewable sources.
Community groups across the country are contributing to those ambitious targets with wind turbines and solar panels, of which 6,000 have been installed in Newport alone. It's a similar situation in Scotland where the government's Community and Renewable Energy Scheme (CARES) is enabling local communities to install solar panels on schools and community centres and installing wind turbines in the Highlands to capture renewable energy.
It seems clear that the power of communities working together has huge potential to help the UK achieve net-zero.
Decarbonising the UK's energy system comes with additional benefits. Local economies are boosted to build back greener after the pandemic. Community stakeholders have cheaper energy bills and are empowered to take ownership in their local energy project.
Inspiring communities together to effect change has a knock-on effect in challenging the wider climate crisis, demonstrating that effective change is possible. A recent study by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) showed that community projects could also help to reduce emissions and restore natural habitats while increasing community wealth and creating thriving communities that are good places to live.
Community energy generation isn't confined to the UK, with successful solar projects flourishing across Europe. This sustainable and affordable energy network could lead to a more de-centralised and community focused grid from which all participating countries benefit.
Is progress being made?
So is community-led renewable energy a worthwhile investment? The IPPR report thinks so, stating that transformative community-led action is critical for an effective transition to net-zero. Community Energy England estimates that, in 2019 alone, community based renewable energy projects were responsible for saving over 65,000 tonnes of carbon.
And while progress is slow, with currently less than 1% of total renewable energy capacity generated in community based projects, the results are impressive. In Scotland in 2020, an estimated 853MW of locally owned and community energy generation was operational - just under half the government's target of 2GW of community generated power by 2030.
Wales is also making headway on its target of 1GW generated by community power by 2030, with 825MW of installed local renewable energy capacity in 2019. While England is currently producing just under 265MW, the commitment of the UK Government to renewable energy and the 2050 net-zero targets is sure to see community energy schemes play a small but important part.