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Researching Community Renewable Energy: introduction and project results


Researching Community Renewable Energy: introduction and project results Energising Communities Workshop Oxford, June 2006 Prof. Gordon Walker (Lancaster University) – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Researching Community Renewable Energy: introduction and project results

Researching Community Renewable Energy
introduction and project results
  • Energising Communities Workshop
  • Oxford, June 2006
  • Prof. Gordon Walker (Lancaster University)
  • Dr. Patrick Devine-Wright (Manchester University)
    Prof. Bob Evans (Northumbria University)
  • Dr. Sue Hunter (De Montfort University) and Dr.
    Helen Fay (Lancaster Univ)

Aim of presentation
  • To summarise results from a 2 year academic
    research project (2004-2006) funded by Economic
    and Social Research Councils Sustainable
    Technologies Programme

Key research questions
  • What are the drivers for community renewable
    energy policy and support?
  • How is the concept of community interpreted
    within different support programmes and actual
    projects on the ground?
  • What are the aims and outcomes of community
    initiatives and to what extent are expected
    outcomes being realised?
  • What generic lessons can be learnt from community
    level energy action?

  • Compile a database of renewable projects
    supported/funded by programmes and networks
  • Profile national community energy programmes
    and networks and interview key people involved
  • Case study 6 community renewable energy projects
    using regional and local level interviews and
    questionnaire surveys

Key Findings
  • There are now many examples of successful
    community renewable projects across the UK
  • Government support for such actions, as well as
    grassroots networks and NGO initiatives, have
    played an important role in stimulating activity
  • Diversity is a key aspect of community renewables
    - in relation to technology, management,
    participation and outcomes
  • This diversity needs to be better recognised and
    seen as an advantage, enabling fit to a variety
    of local circumstances

Key Findings
  • Drivers for specific projects are diverse and
    often relate to local-scale problems
  • A community renewable energy project is
    constituted by both the process of development
    and the local focus of outcomes
  • The relative weight given to each dimension
    varies from project to project
  • Nurturing and learning from the experiences of
    implementing technologies into varied local
    contexts is important for energy futures and
    continuing technology innovation

Key Findings
  • Our research suggests that community projects can
    achieve outcomes over and above carbon reduction
    - including greater public awareness, acceptance
    and social cohesion
  • However, these results are being achieved to
    varying degrees, dependent upon whether local
    people lead the project, whether there is already
    good social cohesion and where involvement and
    benefits are strongly collective in nature
  • Project development is characterised by many
    obstacles, demonstrating the need for ongoing
    advice and practical support to communities

Key Findings
  • Many projects integrate energy conservation,
    directly or indirectly, and this should become
    established practice for all future projects
  • Government support has been provided via multiple
    funding and support programmes - better
    coordination is now needed
  • There has been welcome recent government
    reinvestment in support programmes, but there is
    a lack of ambition, budgets are relatively small
    and insufficiently long term

Key Findings
  • Better learning and evaluation mechanisms need
    developing, supporting all parts of the UK
    including urban areas and making better links
    with household microgeneration
  • Much more can and should be done to make
    renewables standard practice in new build
    community developments, regeneration and
  • Local authorities have been significant but
    inconsistent in their support for local projects.
    All should have policies and practices supporting
    community RE, integrated into regeneration and
    community development initiatives

Community Renewable Projects
  • When research started, lack of information on
    number and type of projects in existence
  • Database was constructed including all projects
    explicitly supported by community-labelled
    programmes/networks of some form
  • 509 projects included (snapshot as of December
    2004) from readily available info
  • Database available on project website
  • Information assumed to be valid and complete
  • Excludes
  • projects without RE/DH installation involved as
    objective (not business plan/feasibility studies,
    awareness projects)
  • projects within programmes but outside
    community funding stream (e.g. grants for
  • projects outside of programmes

Numbers of Community Projects by Technology
Note Projects may involve more than one
Numbers of Community Projects supported by each
Programme or Network
Note a project maybe supported by more than one
programme or network

An impressive profile of activity?
  • But not all successful, material, lasting or
    achieving objectives
  • Key questions
  • Why has community-based localism in energy policy
    developed since late 1990s?
  • What does a community approach mean, how is it
    defined and interpreted?
  • What are the aims of specific projects and to
    what extent are they being achieved?

Analysing Policy and Programmes
  • Community Programme or Network defined as
  • Includes community within its
  • Ambitions extend beyond single projects and
    active in this respect
  • Involves promotion, support, capital or project
    development for renewable energy production or
    district heating both governmental and
  • 12 programmes identified in September 2004 at the
    national level
  • 23 in-depth interviews conducted with key people
    involved in setting up, overseeing, running
    programmes and networks

(No Transcript)

Profile of Programmes and Networks
  • Complex and differentiated with overlapping
  • Mix of Government departments, quangos, agencies,
    NGOs evolving over time
  • Different roles originators, funders, managers,
  • Different structures and scales
  • Trend towards regionalisation of delivery


Diverse structures/scales
  • National responsive capital funding programmes
    differentiated by technology (Clear Skies,
    Community Energy, EST PV)
  • Sub-regional proactive support teams brokering
    partnerships and projects (CRI - England)
  • Integrated national capital funding and proactive
    support/brokering (Scottish CHRI)
  • Support through networks of groups/individuals
    sharing information, expertise, best practice,
    experience (CAFÉ, REIC, Energy21, Solar Clubs)
  • Commonwealth of cooperatives (Energy4All)

1. Drivers and Motivations
  • Multiple and differentiated between
    programmes/interviewees, explicit and implicit
  • 1. Instrumental
  • stimulation/support of market (state-aid rules)
  • development of standards and technical skills
  • gaining planning permission
  • regeneration (rural) and social
  • 2. Normative/ethical
  • principles of localism (bringing people
  • ownership and cooperative models
  • ethical investment
  • public education about energy (information
  • 3. Rhetorical
  • community as good politics

Context for Emergence of Community Energy
Initiatives late 70s
NGO/GRASSROOTS principles, action, demonstration
Context for Emergence of Community Energy
Initiatives late 90s
RURAL REGENERATION Diversification Cohesion
ENERGY POLICY Climate Change/RE targets Market
needs Skills needs Planning Obstacles
NGO/GRASSROOTS principles, action, demonstration
  • Well the fundamental motivation from the
    Executives side is to stimulate the market in
  • First of all its bringing the community
    together, and I think anything that brings the
    community closer together is a good thing
  • The main aim of the programme was to produce
    standards and certify contractors, increase
    awareness and uptake of the technologies
  • There was a growing backlash against
    specifically large scale wind farms and they
    recognised that some work on hearts and minds was
    needed and the best way of doing that work was
    through working at a community level
  • you know, root and branch, change the way we
    approach energy and as a result, the way we live
    our lives and thats not going to happen as a
    result of a marketing campaign, thats going to
    happen only if we embed the importance, the
    methods of how to approach it, and approaches to
    action within the community, and hence the
    importance of community action

Reflections on multiple drivers
  • Our view is that the shift to community based
    localism does not represent a fundamental
    paradigm shift in the governance of energy and
    climate change towards new goals, norms or values
  • For example
  • - Away from the market-based, large-scale
    project development approach characteristic of
    NFFO policy in 1990s
  • - Towards a vision of multi-level governance
    emphasising collaboration, participation and
    smaller(er)-scale, decentralised development
  • Instead it arises from the coalescence of
    diverse, largely instrumental policy drivers
    around the notion of community

2. Multiple conceptions of community
  • As embedded within objectives and operation of
  • as not for profit organisation (legal
  • as a group of buildings (physical rationale)
  • as investors and entrepreneurs (market rationale)
  • as effective/capable (capacity rationale)
  • as catalysts for social change (transformative
  • as aerosol (marketing rationale)

the programme is called community energy,
because obviously it is about linking different
buildings and different constituent partners
within the community together in one heating
system Q How has community been
defined? We are having to make that up as we go
along. As far as the Oxfordshire project is
concerned, we will probably define it as people
living between Oxford, Swindon and perhaps
extending it slightly into Wiltshire as
well We have measured community roughly ..
There is no set definition of community within
the programme they have taken each case on its
merits, without using a points system, just using
rules of thumb. The only restriction is that
they have to be not-for-profit and be a legal
its actually very difficult to define
community, what is a community project, because I
think it represents a spectrum, and I get
frustrated when, particularly on the renewable
energy side, people say a community project is
one that, where the wind turbine is owned by the
community, and actually I think thats such a
small percentage, and it also devalues the whole
wealth of community projects, community
involvement, activities that arent actually
around projects where the community owns
somethingmight be just that the community have
been actively involved, and I think that
approaches to community participation have to
recognise that wide spectrum
3. Evaluating the architecture of national
programmes and networks
  • Little evidence of coherent, planned strategy
    within energy policy for community level
    renewable energy
  • Diversity of approaches and structures could
  • Fragmented, incoherent, muddled situation?
  • Organic reflection of needs and complexity of
    community renewables driven by a range of actors
    across very different localities and regions?

On the impacts of ambiguity
  • Community renewable energy is not one thing or
    one category
  • It is a space with malleable and indistinct
    boundaries which is given meaning, filled and
    experimented with by different actors to
    different strategic and pragmatic ends
  • This ambiguity may have both positive and
    negative consequences, short and long term
  • Allows flexibility at local level to suit local
  • Could act corrosively to undermine principles of
    collective action and participation

Policy level conclusions
  • Community RE appeared in government policy as a
    consequence of multiple policy and grassroots
    discourses connecting around a community label
  • When top-down energy (and rural) policy
    problems of the late 1990s, connected within
    longer standing bottom-up process-orientated
    principles and practice
  • Institutional architecture reflects
  • plurality of discourses, interests actors
  • plurality of technologies and scales of
  • incremental, chaotic evolution rather than grand
    plan, in part because of this plurality

Policy level conclusions
  • Coalescence is tenuous, with an uncertain future
  • In our view, ambiguity of definition is a virtue
    not a vice
  • May be a temptation to rationalise support
    programmes, however, this may prove
    counter-productive if matched with inflexibility
    in approach and definition
  • Diversity in activity is a key theme of local
    energy action - which will be explored further in
    the second project presentation this afternoon

  • Visit the website (and the database)
  • http//
  • Email