When Tony Blair famously exclaimed “education, education, education” in his campaign speech in 1997, he wasn’t actually talking about energy saving – but he could well have been.
For community energy projects, few aspects are as important as education and training; it’s always a good idea to know what you’re talking about – but with a topic which can often be beset with myths and half-understandings, it’s vital.
Fortunately a surprising number of sources will be more than willing to help you; you simply need to know where to start looking.
Free Sources of Education and Training
Many organisations and charities have a role in promoting energy saving and efficiency, which means many of them produce a range of informative leaflets and other publications – often available free. Some also have very good web sites which provide a wealth of information and educational resources for anyone wanting to find out more about energy saving and related topics.
Perhaps one of the most useful is the Energy Saving Trust, an independent, not-for-profit organisation offering impartial information on a range of energy efficiency matters. With 21 advice centres and over 500 staff-members across the UK, access couldn’t be simpler – a single free-phone number automatically linking to the nearest centre.
This can be of particular benefit to a community energy saving project, since locally based advisors with good knowledge of the local area are the best people to give really relevant advice. In addition, they can also point you in the right direction for reputable traders or available grants.
With energy efficiency having now become such a big issue on the high street, many appliance manufacturers have risen to the challenge by providing very useful literature. While this is obviously fairly specific to their own product range, many of the lessons that can be learnt will be readily transferable.
By the same token, retailers – particularly DIY stores – often have a range of “how to” leaflets covering issues such as low voltage lighting, insulation and energy efficiency, which are perfect for giving any interested new-comer a good basic education on these topics.
It is also worth remembering that the energy companies themselves frequently have good advice on using energy more efficiently, either online or in printed form.
Courses & Training Schemes
When it comes to particular technologies or approaches, formal training schemes are often available to teach community groups how to install or use them, either provided by the manufacturers themselves, or by other community energy organisations.
The growing interest in renewable energy in particular has spawned a large number of micro-businesses and many of these are actively involved in providing training to local groups. Of course, there is an element of self-interest in this – they would really rather like you to use their services – but in the long run, having a tame expert on hand can be a major boost to any project.
Some councils or local authorities run courses on energy saving issues, often in association with colleges or other educational institutions in the area. There are also useful training opportunities in related areas, such as plumbing – helpful for projects involving solar water heating – or electronics. Local libraries are usually a good starting place to find out what is on offer.
For anyone looking for a more formal approach to education, the Open University is one of a number of institutions catering to the growing interest in energy issues – with the advantage that courses can be taken from home.
In addition, many traditional universities have entire courses or course modules which are relevant and are happy to allow guests to sit-in on their lectures, so it is always worth asking if your nearest University has anything suitable that someone from the project could attend.
With energy matters topping every agenda – political, practical, economic and environmental – the whole sector is facing an increasing demand for good-quality education on a local level. Community groups have become the new front-line in the push towards energy saving and the delivery of sustainable energy projects, making access to information, education and training particularly important.
Whichever way you look at it, there’s probably never been a better time to be involved in community energy saving.