This article is an excerpt from a full article due to be released in the Hethel Innovation E-Mag in the coming months. Keep in touch to read the full thing!

TL;DR

Norwich Community Solar Chair Nigel Hargreaves discusses whether institutional inertia is the barrier to community energy projects in East Anglia. Highlighting that the western and southern areas of England have had success with community energy. There is plenty of solar and wind resource in East Anglia, but no community uptake.

What we are

Up and down the country, community groups have successfully organised as social enterprises to own and deliver green energy to our electricity system as well as, more recently, tackling the issues of low carbon mobility and heat. Norwich Community Solar (NCS) was started as a Community Benefit Society by a small group of environmentally concerned residents in late 2017 and as members of Community Energy England (CEE), which represents similarly minded organisations, we are now part of a community of 228 in England and Wales (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Summary of projects undertaken by community energy organisations from 2017-2018, belonging to one of four categories

Some of the earlier members of CEE have grown in terms of installing mega Watts (MW) of generating capacity (not only from solar but also wind and hydro schemes) and others have spawned new energy social enterprises from their community benefit funds. NCS aspire to follow suit, but the removal of the feed in tariff subsidy scheme has had a dramatic impact on the support for new projects. To highlight this, the number of new CEE members founded in 2017 (Figure 2) was one, and that was NCS!

Figure 2. The founding of new community organisations from 2008-2018. The single cooperative formed in 2017 represents NCS

With the additional loss of the Urban Community Energy Fund (UCEF) and removal of the Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS) eligibility for investments in community energy, NCS have entered the energy market at a particularly challenging time. One can see the perversity of this situation in terms of the leading position in the EU, the UK holds in subsidising fossil fuels despite its decarbonisation rhetoric and signing of the Paris climate change agreement to limit global warming to 1.5ºC!

 

The need for community energy

Notwithstanding the economic dimension as a cornerstone of any successful enterprise, we are also entering an era in which NCS believes social enterprise especially, can deliver in the other ways that are becoming recognised as more important than economic growth alone. Recently we have witnessed Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal initiative, the ‘world-first’ by the New Zealand government to prioritise wellbeing in its latest budget  and in the UK, a recommendation by an all-party parliamentary group that in the forthcoming 3-year spending review, the government should set wellbeing as the primary aim of government spending. NCS, both owned by its members and working to return benefits to the community it serves, is a means by which community wellbeing can be created and enhanced. Empowering communities in such a way will also increase their resilience in a future that is likely to be more uncertain.

 

What we offer

Our mission is twofold:

First, to work with local people (including land owners, other social enterprises, businesses and local government organisations) to increase the presence of community owned renewables in Norfolk and Norwich. There is a growing call for action on global warming, and interest in our organisation is expanding as we passed our 55th member-shareholder earlier this year.

Second, we are strengthening our connections with similarly aligned environmentally-oriented organisations to increase our capacity as a cooperative, but also to improve the social resilience (sometimes called social capital), and emotional and mental wellbeing of our communities. For those that see the need to change the way things are, by backing NCS we offer an avenue to exercise that need, by regaining a measure of control through cooperative ownership and collectively facing environmental catastrophe and the lack of equity in it.

NCS have a business model that offers better financial returns from investing in our projects than the financial return from putting savings in a bank. Importantly, though, at the same time we are laying a more sustainable and resilient foundation for future generations. The beauty of the model is that commitment from any individual could be as little as a £50 shareholding in one of our projects, while still providing a positive emotional return on investment. Additionally, if possible, we will offer our energy buyer, say the building owner, a discount on the energy we generate on site. In this way, we are returning the benefits to everyone involved, creating resilience and wellbeing.

 

The full article will be available in the next edition of the Hethel Innovation E-Mag

 

Dr. Nigel Hargreaves is a Chartered Engineer and member of the Institution of Engineering and Technology. He runs Synfo Ltd. an energy consultancy with a particular interest in smart grid architecture and Chairs Norwich Community Solar.

You can contact Norwich Community Solar through their email address info@norwichcommunitysolar.coop 

You can also join as a member through their website