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Westmill Solar Park, Oxfordshire, is the world's largest community owned solar installation. Rated at 5MW, it covers 30 acres. Photo: Richard Peat via Flickr.
Westmill Solar Park, Oxfordshire, is the world's largest community owned solar installation. Rated at 5MW, it covers 30 acres. Photo: Richard Peat via Flickr.
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Community Energy Fortnight - happening somewhere near you

Hugh Bowring

16th September 2014

Community energy presents a real solution to Britain's energy trap, writes Hugh Bowring. And here's the perfect opportunity to find out more: Community Energy Fortnight is now under way, with over 80 events across the UK - from visits to wind farms and hydro stations, to DIY solar panel workshops and a community share offer festival.

Now is the time for bold innovation, collaboration and the belief that we can disrupt and transform our archaic energy system into one which meets the needs of the 21st century.

We are so used to the Big Six companies dominating the energy scene in the UK that it might seem fanciful to imagine how the system could ever be different.

And even more, how a new system might be fair, secure and sustainable. But that is exactly the system which proponents of community energy - and Forum for the Future - are trying to create.

So, as scores of communities throughout the UK get ready to open their doors to the public for the next Community Energy Fortnight, let's consider for a moment: are they off their rockers, or might they actually be onto something?

Breaking the Big Six oligopoly

Given that 90% of the UK energy market is currently controlled by six incumbents, you might feel ready to call for the men in white coats.

And when you take into account that several of these firms' plans to invest in new nuclear power stations and coal remains firmly on their - and even some politicians' - agendas, then it might appear that progressive change is out of the question.

But at Forum we believe that the key systems that humankind relies on are broken and unsustainable. They're no longer fit for purpose and are in need of radical change. Systems such as food, finance and, of course, energy.

Forum's work is defined by our systems view of sustainability, and the recognition of the urgent need for action. In practice, this has led to us working with businesses, governments and other organisations to develop a number of projects and interventions that, when the impact of each is added together, we hope will create significant system change.

Community energy is a very important part of that.

Centralised fossil fuel energy is 'reaching its end'

And we are not alone in our view. Just last week Volker Beckers, the former RWE npower boss and new Forum trustee, proclaimed that the centralised, fossil fuel system would "soon reach its end" - a stark warning for incumbents relying on out-of-date business models, if ever there was one.

Community energy initiatives, in his view, have an unequivocal role in the new energy system.

Equally explicit is Ed Davey MP, the UK's Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, who has declared that he wants "nothing more than a community energy revolution".

No surprise then that Forum's very own energy supremo Will Dawson told me today that the big energy companies are so low on public trust, that we are seeing people taking control of their energy needs for the benefit of the local community, rather than far-away shareholders.

He believes it is "very plausible" that community-owned renewables could be powering one million British homes by 2020, with many more benefitting from lower bills through collective action to save energy.

The shifting tectonic plates

While to some people today's energy system might appear unshakeable, scratch below the surface and the old business model looks on very wobbly ground. And with that vulnerability brings opportunity for others.

Now is the time for bold innovation, collaboration and the belief that we can disrupt and transform our archaic energy system into one which meets the needs of the 21st century.

It's already happening in Germany where the impact of the widespread growth of renewables and a surge in energy efficiency has seen a slump in the utilities' value.

That's why everyone at Forum is so excited about this year's Community Energy Fortnight, which kicks off this Saturday.

Two weeks of amazing events ....

From the Outer Hebrides to the depths of Cornwall (see locations map), there are more than 80 events being held during the Fortnight from visits to wind farms and hydro stations, to DIY solar panel workshops and a community share offer festival.

The two weeks' events give everyone in the UK the chance to see what is already happening in their area, and talk to project teams about why they are doing it and what's in it for them and their communities.

So, find out what is happening near you, go along, get inspired and who knows, maybe next year we'll be talking about your community energy project!

 

 


 

Hugh Bowring is communications advisor at Forum for the Future.

 

  • Find events near you
  • See what happened last year
  • Join our webinar - The role of business in scaling up community energy - 17th September 2014
  • Getting it together - Get the latest on a busy month of collaborations
  • Follow @UKCEC and @hugh_bowring on Twitter        
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