Thursday, June 7, 2012

UK Community Energy Handbook Review

Review by David Coote

Change in energy generation and consumption in many European nations over the last 20 years has seen a significant increase in renewable energy supply and considerable focus on energy efficiency. One facet of these changes has been the increase in community based energy systems often owned by individuals or co-operatives. For example, one report indicates that in 2010 of the 53GW (as an interesting aside this is comparable to the nameplate capacity of Australia's total grid) of renewable energy generation in Germany, 51% was owned by farmers and individuals. In Australia, we have seen State and Federal Government financial incentives and schemes assisting rooftop photovoltaics, solar hot water and community energy efficiency programs, some community based schemes such as Hepburn Wind, BREAZE in Ballarat and a number of bulk-purchase solar initiatives. For those interested in further developing community energy projects the Rough Guide to Community Energy (published in the UK in 2011 and available for free download at  http://www.roughguide.to/communityenergy/RG_Community_Energy.pdf ) may be useful.

The handbook covers what community energy projects mean, how they can contribute to the energy mix in the UK, how a community energy group can start and work to deliver renewable energy projects from feasibility study to maintenance of an operational system and the important contribution energy efficiency can make. The authors point out using case studies how community energy projects can improve social equity, increase energy resiliency, keep money spent on energy within the local economy, provide valuable and trusted demonstration sites and help build stronger and more integrated communities.

The book briefly describes a number of renewable electricity and heat technologies including  biomass, solar, wind, anaerobic digestion, heat-pumps, hydro and energy efficiency. Some of the example systems are more relevant to the UK, the energy use data, tariffs and incentive schemes will differ to those in Australia but much of what's covered is useful to groups wishing to build Australian low carbon, renewable energy powered communities. And to companies and government bodies who could contribute to these efforts.

Many of the local climate change groups in Australia appear to have a primary focus on lobbying government. It's arguable that their relevance and impact would be enhanced significantly by delivering projects such as those described in this handbook. There is a substantial opportunity for governments at all levels and companies specialising in bioenergy and other renewables to work with community groups to deliver these schemes. The increased commercial availability of community and domestic scale renewable energy kit and energy efficiency solutions has opened up this field. This handbook offers useful advice and case studies on what can be done.

Copyright David Coote 2012


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