Working together as a community to implement an energy project offers enormous benefits – to the participants every bit as much as the environment. Whether it’s energy saving schemes, green awareness programmes or a drive to promote renewable energy, there’s a clear case for saying, the more the merrier!
Waste Not Want Not
Energy saving schemes within the community can have a particularly significant effect. If all of those little tricks – turning down the thermostat, insulating the loft or using low-energy bulbs – can help an individual household cut costs, then magnify that by everyone in the neighbourhood and the cumulative result can be enormous.
There are many resources available, while utility companies and a number of organisations offer a range of help – from useful practical information to a range of energy saving gadgets.
Truly Central Heating
Another area where community projects can make a major difference is improving energy usage in the local area. There are two major problems with our conventional approach to heating and powering our homes and buildings.
If every house relies on its own heating system, the community’s collective carbon footprint depends on the sum of all their efficiencies – or inefficiencies, while generating electricity at a distant power station risks major transmission losses bringing it to our homes.
By contrast, a local central source providing heat and/or power to a number of the buildings in the immediate area – homes, schools, offices, leisure centres and the like – offers a range of benefits, including improved efficiency, lower fuel costs and a significantly lower carbon footprint.
Projects of this type can range for large-scale “district heating schemes” supplying a wide area, to much smaller schemes involving a single block of flats or cluster of houses.
A wide range of micro-generation technologies are ideal candidates to be incorporated into community projects. Micro-generation itself involves producing heat or power at low to zero carbon cost by the likes of solar energy, ground source heat pumps, small hydro-electric plants or wind turbines.
The good news for interested community groups is that many of these projects are eligible for grants. The Community Sustainable Energy Programme (CSEP), for example, is a Big Lottery Fund open grants programme, while the Low Carbon Buildings Programme, offers up to 30 per cent of the installation costs, providing your technology is approved and you use a certified installer.
Community Owned Green Power
For a community looking to go even further, there’s the option to own a stake in major renewable energy projects in the locality – often as co-operatives. This can give them the opportunity to bring the entire site under local ownership, or to buy a share in a commercial development.
The nature of these deals varies – 100 per cent ownership, owning a single aero-generator in a wind farm or, in some cases, a royalty payment – but whatever the detail, they stand as one of the most powerful public statements of any community’s serious green intent.
Introducing energy efficiency, fighting climate change and reducing carbon footprints work particularly well at the community scale. Large enough to make a difference, yet small enough to allow everyone’s input to really count, community projects offer the ideal way to begin to have a positive effect at a local level.
In many respects, community energy schemes are only limited by the imagination of the community members themselves – there are just so many possible avenues to explore to reduce costs and improve environmental performance for the whole neighbourhood. With so many options, there’s bound to be something to suit.