Skip to main content

New models of community energy

Credit: Bristol Energy Cooperative
North Yorkshire County Council’s recent decision to approve Third Energy Ltd’s application to begin exploratory fracking in Kirby Misperton (by a majority vote of seven councillors to four) was seen by some as riding roughshod over the democratic process – 36 individual representations were made in support of the application, while 4420 were made against.  

On the same day, closer to home, there was news that Bristol Energy Cooperative would soon become the largest generator of community energy in the UK with the development of a 4.2 MW solar farm in Lawrence Weston.

The two organisations could not be further apart. While Third Energy Ltd is a recently registered private equity company with all shares held in house and likely backed by a parent oil and gas company (Third Energy UK Gas Ltd), Bristol Energy Cooperative is a community owned cooperative that has financed solar developments through community share offers, funding from the local council and ethical banks. Although at this stage we don’t know how Third Energy would finance any fracking activities – there is no reason why it couldn’t make a community share offer – Bristol Energy Cooperative has demonstrated with its existing solar developments a way to generate new electricity generation that is participative and engaging rather than exclusionary and remote.

That is not to say that the cooperative model provides all the answers; questions over who has money and time to invest/participate remain. Given the explosion of energy cooperatives and community benefit societies over the last few years, such models are clearly striking a cord with communities around the UK. Nevertheless, as a result of recent cuts in subsidies, we are now entering a period of uncertainty. Many community energy groups are waiting for prices of technology to fall and/or major planning decisions to be made. However, it is unlikely that that is the last we see of community energy organisations, many are working hard to function in the new harsher environment; devising novel models to develop renewable energy in ways that give communities more say.

What these new models might look like is still very much up in the air. With the introduction of Bristol Energy Company and Robin Hood Energy in Nottingham, it might be that we see more collaboration between community energy groups and local councils (or their energy companies) drawing on both their relative strengths to leverage the necessary finance and public support, or we might see larger community energy organisations refocus their efforts by offering direct energy connections (private wire developments) to high energy consumers. There may also be a trend towards scaling-up and turning themselves into energy supply companies or cooperative services providers, and then there are partnerships taking place with traditional energy supply companies.

Whichever models come to thrive in the coming years, there is a growing acceptance that communities should have more, not less, say over how energy is generated at the local level. And with the introduction of Neighbourhood Plans (through the Localism Act 2011) there is a potential regulatory channel that local communities can employ to continue to pursue transparent and open decision-making. If such devolution continues, it seems likely that we will see more active, not less active, communities in all things energy in the years to come.

---------------------------------
This blog has been written by University of Bristol Cabot Institute member Jack Nicholls, a PhD student in Law and Sociology, Policy and International Studies (SPAIS), who researches renewable energy development at the local scale. He has no financial interests in either Bristol Energy Cooperative or Third Energy Ltd.  
Jack Nicholls
This blog has also been featured on the Big Green Week blog.   Big Green Week runs from 11 June in Bristol and there are lots of exciting events to attend.  Check out the official website

The Cabot Institute is hosting a special Big Green Week event on 15 June on Nicaragua's progress towards 90% renewable energy. Full details and tickets can be found online.

Popular posts from this blog

Bristol Future’s magical places: Sustainability through the eyes of the community

“What is science? Why do we do it?”. I ask these questions to my students a lot, in fact, I spend a lot of time asking myself the same thing.

And of course, as much as philosophy of science has thankfully graced us with a lot of scholars, academics and researchers who have discussed, and even provided answers to these questions, sometimes, when you are buried under piles of papers, staring at your screen for hours and hours on end, it doesn’t feel very science-y, does it?

 As a child I always imagined the scientist constantly surrounded by super cool things like the towers around Nicola Tesla, or Cousteau being surrounded by all those underwater wonders. Reality though, as it often does, may significantly differ from your early life expectations. I should have guessed that Ts and Cs would apply… Because there is nothing magnificent about looking for that one bug in your code that made your entire run plot the earth inside out and upside down, at least not for me.

I know for myself, I…

The new carbon economy - transforming waste into a resource

As part of Green Great Britain Week, supported by BEIS, we are posting a series of blogs throughout the week highlighting what work is going on at the University of Bristol's Cabot Institute for the Environment to help provide up to date climate science, technology and solutions for government and industry.  We will also be highlighting some of the big sustainability actions happening across the University and local community in order to do our part to mitigate the negative effects of global warming. Today our blog will look at 'Technologies of the future: clean growth and innovation'.



On Monday 8 October 2018, the IPCC released a special report which calls upon world governments to enact policies which will limit global warming to 1.5°C compared with pre-industrial levels, failure to do so will drastically increase the probability of ecosystem collapses, extreme weather events and complete melting of Arctic sea ice. Success will require “rapid and far-reaching” actions in…

Will July’s heat become the new normal?

For the past month, Europe has experienced a significant heatwave, with both high temperatures and low levels of rainfall, especially in the North. Over this period, we’ve seen a rise in heat-related deaths in major cities, wildfires in Greece, Spain and Portugal, and a distinct ‘browning’ of the European landscape visible from space.

As we sit sweltering in our offices, the question on everyone’s lips seems to be “are we going to keep experiencing heatwaves like this as the climate changes?” or, to put it another way, “Is this heat the new norm?”

Leo Hickman, Ed Hawkins, and others, have spurred a great deal of social media interest with posts highlighting how climate events that are currently considered ‘extreme’, will at some point be called ‘typical’ as the climate evolves.
In January 2007, the BBC aired a special programme presented by Sir David Attenborough called "Climate Change - Britain Under Threat".

It included this imagined weather forecast for a "typical s…