For any community project, providing recognisable benefits has to be the single most important yardstick against which to judge its success. When it comes to energy efficiency, the most obvious of those surely has to be in terms of reduced energy use and as a result, lower bills. In this respect, at least from the perspective of any individual household, a scheme’s success is easily measured, but the gains don’t have to stop there.
The Wider Economic Benefits of Energy Efficiency
Indirect and wider economic benefits can also follow to the community from energy efficiency schemes. The supply chain opportunities, for example, for local suppliers and retailers can be significant, particularly if the project takes off and dependent on the nature of the scheme itself, there may be a positive impact on local employment too.
This can often be most pronounced in the countryside, but for urban areas too, moves on a community-scale towards sustainability can often have significant spin-off benefits to local shop keepers and businesses.
Addressing Local Needs
However, for some projects the benefits can go beyond this – particularly if the community is playing host to larger renewable energy schemes, such as local commercial wind power developments. For these, it has become customary for the developers to set up a community fund, often in addition to any local ownership there may be in the wind farm itself, which provides a useful additional revenue stream to the area.
Exactly how this is used is largely dependent on a local committee or parish council, but goes to support appropriate environmental or social programmes within the locality. By addressing identified local needs, such a spin-off can provide a major boost to the community and in one way or another, improve everyone’s quality of life.
Inevitably, coming together to work for the common energy efficiency goal can produce very strong feelings of camaraderie amongst those involved and provide a very powerful force for community cohesion. With good planning, an energy efficiency project can also be an important vehicle for social inclusion too.
Green issues, for instance, are dear to the hearts of many of the young generation; welcoming the participation of youngsters in community energy efficiency schemes is a sure fire way to encourage them to make positive contributions to the community in other ways.
By the same token, energy projects can also encourage other sectors of the community which may often – rightly or wrongly – feel marginalised, to join in, with obvious long term potential benefits to all those involved.
The Environmental Dividend
Even if your interest is firmly in the money saving aspect of energy efficiency, it’s hard to avoid getting involved in the whole environmental thing along the way. There is an obvious synergy between community energy projects and wider moves towards local sustainability.
For any community or group which has already begun trying to reduce its collective energy use and – by implication – its carbon footprint, it is a very short step to going a little further and looking for other ways to achieve a generally lower impact.
From reducing food miles to offsetting carbon emissions, the opportunities for a green payback can be as big as they are varied – and heightened eco-awareness represents one of the biggest “hidden” community benefits.
Energy efficiency schemes have a great deal to offer, for individuals and communities alike, though the biggest benefits may not automatically be the most obvious ones. While anyone implementing some of the widely known energy saving tips will, of course, see a direct benefit to their bank balance, there are other gains to be made – and for the community, many of these are likely to be the more valuable in the long run.