Earlier this year, Community Energy England produced the UK’s very first ‘State of the Sector‘ report, highlighting the emerging influence and importance of community owned energy in 2017.

The community energy movement has witnessed tremendous growth over recent years, now boasting 222 organisations throughout the country, which can collectively generate 121MW of clean renewable energy. That’s enough to power 85,500 homes, and has reduced carbon emissions by 110,000 tonnes since 2002.

community owned energy england

The emergence of this new type of energy ownership and generation is in keeping with a wider transformation of our energy supply.

We are in the midst of a seismic shift in the way we use and consume energy. Developments like electric cars, smart grids, battery storage and demand response will make a huge difference to our relationship with energy by making it more local.  Community groups are perfectly positioned to be at the vanguard of this revolution.

Their drive, commitment and local insight provide an ability to put into practice emerging market developments, while the trust associated with being community owned can be vital for encouraging the uptake of new technologies such as smart meters.

Members of Community Energy South (Members of Community Energy South)

In an era of increasing devolution, it is fundamental for communities to invest in initiatives that will improve resilience. As well as generating energy independently (and reducing transmission loss), community energy creates local jobs and keeps money in the local economy. A 2014 government strategy paper on the subject observed that:

“Putting communities in control of the energy they use can have wider benefits such as building stronger communities, creating local jobs, improving health and supporting local economic growth.”

The age when coal and nuclear power dominated the supply market is over.  The gigantic power stations and reactors required to generate huge power outputs that travel for thousands of miles through the wires of the National Grid will soon be history . With access to affordable generation technologies like offshore wind and solar power, coupled with battery storage, heat pumps and a more effficient use of energy, we, as communities, are truly able for the first time to seize control of our energy future.

In countries like Germany, 35% of all renewable energy installations are community owned.  Our future, here in the UK is also community owned.  

Let’s work together to make this happen.

 

In the face of catastrophic climate change, we need to encourage energy efficiency and cleaner, renewable energy production, more than ever before. Unfortunately, our current government seems to be indifferent, if not intentionally hostile, to promoting this constructive, job-creating transition to a cleaner, income-generating and robust energy bill saving economy.  This government is promoting funding of the destructive fossil fuel and nuclear industries.   Our MPs own pension scheme invests in the fossil fuel industry for starters.  While a significant minority recently backed divestment from fossil fuels, sadly the majority of MPs in government did not1.

Then there’s the promotion of the hugely unpopular hydraulic fracturing industry against the democratic will of the people2 and the attacks on onshore wind3 and solar energy4, both very popular renewable energy technologies5. These renewables, given the chance to flourish, as it did before the government started taxing and wrapping the renewable industry in red tape, can transform the UK’s energy security fears, reduce fuel poverty and meet our vital climate targets. We could have an economy that works for local, small to medium-sized businesses and domestic consumers alike, rather than an economy that benefits only the large energy corporations which still dominate over 80% of the UK’s energy market. The constant drain on the public’s finances by the UK’s large, enormously profit taking energy companies, duping the customer with over-priced energy tariffs, have serious consequences for people’s livelihoods and wellbeing.

One significant step to reducing energy bills for both domestic customers and businesses is to improve energy efficiency. According to the Office of National Statistics’ 2011 census, Brighton & Hove had the highest proportion of residents privately renting out of any town or city in England and Wales; more than 30% of households. Around 26,000 people are on the council housing waiting list and 1 in 69 people in Brighton & Hove are homeless6.

However, the incentive for private landlords to increase the energy efficiency of their properties just isn’t there. The government’s weak legislation requiring landlords to improve their properties’ energy efficiency, by achieving a minimum energy performance rating of E on an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) by April 2018, isn’t helping at all.  Yes, there are other regulations, which came into effect from 1st April, where a tenant can apply for consent to carry out energy efficiency improvements in privately rented properties7 under the provisions of the Energy Efficiency (Private Rented Property) Regulations 2015. However, in the current climate of retaliatory evictions for tenants who merely ask for simple repairs, let alone applying for consent to carry out improvements, it makes this legislation appear a greenwash exercise, with no meaningful support for those threatened with homelessness8 or suffering in fuel poverty.

To make UK households truly energy efficient the government needs the EPC rating of landlords’ properties to be at least a D. This is overdue for the huge numbers of residents living in sub-standard, enormously expensive, energy inefficient properties across the country. The government could help landlords achieve warmer, more comfortable homes with incentives. With the new round of Energy Company Obligation 2 Transition (ECO2t) funding for efficient heating and insulation grants, there should be more focus on offering all those landlords’ properties with EPC band ratings below a D, more fully funded grant access9.

BHESCo is an award winning not-for-profit community energy co-operative offering an innovative PAYS (pay-as-you-save scheme) for those domestic and business customers who can’t afford to pay for the energy efficiency improvement measures up-front. The savings from their energy bills are used to pay for the installations over a period of time and the occupants or tenants feel more comfortable in a warmer home, helping to reduce their energy bills. However, to encourage uptake there needs to be more of an incentive and active promotion in all sections of our community.

Another reason for requiring a D rating, is those landlords who wish to invest in solar energy generation can do so, thus helping to stimulate the UK’s wounded solar PV industry10 and make it economically viable for landlords. To obtain the maximum Feed-In Tariff (FIT) for solar PV installations, a household must attain a minimum EPC band D rating11. However, the government also needs to realise that renewable energy is going to be the cheapest form of energy production in the near future.  Onshore wind is already our cheapest source of electricity.  Not to mention the benefits of secure, locally-produced energy and the dire consequences from global climate change if we don’t act now. The government’s own Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) published a report saying a solar project commissioned next year was predicted to cost between £62 and £84 per megawatt hour (MWh) with onshore wind coming in at £49 to £79/MWh. Compare this to the cheapest form of gas costing between £60 and £62 and £154 to £166 for a more expensive gas system12.

We need active, forward-thinking local councillors and MPs to lobby Westminster and help promote energy efficiency and renewable technology in their constituencies, especially coming up to this general election in June. The technology and capability is already here, but we need the political will to make it happen now and not when it is too late.

 

  1. Holder, May 2017: 50 MPs back fight to divest parliament pension fund of fossil fuels, Guardian, 08/05/2017, https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/may/08/5o-mps-back-fight-divest-parliament-pension-fund-fossil-fuels?CMP=share_btn_link.
  2. Simple Switch, October 2016: Government Overrules Council to Allow Fracking in Lancashire, https://www.simplyswitch.com/government-overrules-council-to-allow-fracking-in-lancashire/
  3. 10:10, April 2017: Stop the government wrapping wind turbines in red tape, https://1010uk.org/articles/blownaway-planning
  4. Johnston, March 2017: Budget 2017: Solar industry facing devastating 800% tax increase, Independent, 08/03/2017, http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/solar-industry-budget-2017-800-per-cent-tax-increase-green-renewable-energy-a7618191.html
  5. BEIS, May 2017: Energy & Climate Change Public Attitude Tracker – Wave 21, https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/energy-and-climate-change-public-attitude-tracking-survey-wave-21
  6. MAIS, May 2017: Housing Crisis: Community Solutions 2017, 11/05/2017, https://maisnetwork.net/2017/05/11/housing-crisis-community-solutions-2017/
  7. Residential Landlord’s Association, 2017: MINIMUM ENERGY EFFICIENCY STANDARDS, https://www.rla.org.uk/landlord/guides/minimum-energy-efficiency-standards.shtml
  8. Whitworth, February 2017: Revenge eviction law ‘not working’, 09/02/2017, http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsbeat/article/38795177/revenge-eviction-law-not-working
  9. NEA, Feb 2017: IN FROM THE COLD: The funding gap for non-gas fuel poor homes under ECO and a proposal to fill it.
  10. Solar Trade Association, August 2016: 2017 Business Rates Revaluation: Rooftop Solar PV.
  11. Ofgem, 2017: Feed-In Tariff (FIT) rates, https://www.ofgem.gov.uk/environmental-programmes/fit/fit-tariff-rates
  12. Johnston, February 2017: Government accused of trying to kill off UK solar industry before it can become cheapest form of electricity, Independent, 08/02/2017, http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/solar-energy-uk-government-accused-trying-to-kill-off-climate-change-theresa-may-a7570161.html.

 

 

“I wouldn’t want to be the MP in Parliament who voted to oppose Hinkley C”.
With a very concerned look mixed with fear, this quote comes from an insider in the Halls of Power of the Energy Industry. Yet he works for a company that has chosen to put at the heart of its strategy the preparation and facilitation of the transition to a distributed network. This, in essence, is a bet on the proliferation of local renewable energy generation, and a move away from the inefficiency of centralised power stations. A distributed network is needed when there are lots of energy generators installed on rooftops, in the hills, in the sea and under the streets of our cities, towns and villages.

BHESCo estimates that there is almost 50GW worth of applications for battery storage facilities wanting to connect with the 8 Distribution Network Operators and the National Grid. This is about 10 times the power generation capacity of Hinkley C and Moorside combined, at a fraction of the price to the taxpayer and to future taxpayers. Granted, this is an emerging technology, as yet without a track record, however in the 10 years it will take for these nuclear power plants to be operational, battery storage will have become mainstream. As Steven Holliday, former CEO of the National Grid, announced in 2015, “base load power is obsolete.[1]” Base load nuclear power is wasteful, where at present 60% of the electricity produced is lost in conversion, transmission and distribution.

Despite pleas from over 160 organisations, this year’s national budget includes a ‘Solar Tax’ collected in the form of business rates. If you own a solar array less than 50kW, the value of your property for business rates will be increased by the nominal value of the solar array on your roof. This will have enormous implications on small businesses that have become solar generators because the tax is most likely to approximate or exceed any benefit that they receive for the free electricity from the sun. Because any investment in energy generation requires a certain return in order for investors to commit their hard earned cash, a business rates tax on solar arrays eliminates any incentive to accelerate our transition from fossil fuels by investing in generating your own electricity.  The ‘solar tax’ is an intentional assault on free power from the sun as, for example, gas combined heat and power systems have been exempt from business rates since 2001.

Now consider the subsidies for investors in shale gas exploration, or ‘fracking’. This subsidy comes in the form of tax breaks called Enhanced Capital Allowances that permit firms that are investing in shale gas exploration to deduct the cost of the equipment directly against their taxable income, in many cases virtually eliminating any tax due. For companies like Centrica, who are a large investor in Cuadrilla, these tax breaks run into the millions [2] . Other similar tax breaks will be enjoyed by Ineos, who intend to invest £168 million in shale gas exploration (which at 40% tax relief, amount to £68 million) or IGas who invested £16 million in equipment in 2015. Nuclear power on the other hand costs the taxpayer billions each year for transport, storage and decommissioning of existing power plants alone, before we even being to count the cost of constructing new ones such as Hinkley C and Moorside, as each of these proposed plants are being constructed using unproven technologies. Simply put, the “solar tax” is an assault on the little guy, just another addition to the unfair tax policies that protect the 10% and burden the 90%, in this case, small businesses.

For anyone who believes that we must take responsibility for our energy supply now for the sake of our climate and our energy security, we wonder: what is the difference in tax receipts for the Treasury if the money comes from the clean energy industry or from dirty fossil fuels or nuclear? Or do we really want to spend our money as taxpayers supporting a government that is afraid to make the decisions that we need to ensure that we have clean, affordable energy in the future? Wouldn’t we rather ensure that our schools have sufficient funds to properly educate our children, or that the NHS continues to thrive as an accessible customer service focused health care system?

Join the fight today by writing to your MP, signing an anti-fracking or anti-nuclear petition, or becoming an investor in Community Energy.  Make sure that important decisions about our future are made from a position of courage, not fear.  Mostly make sure that you are informed, as such short sighted changes to tax legislation will have long term impacts on our quality of life.

 

[1] www.greentechmedia.com

[2]energydesk.greenpeace.org

clear solar panel

New skyscrapers are being built in London and other major cities all the time, with rooftop solar panels now being included as standard – excellent news for anyone concerned about the environment. If solar panels could be integrated into entire buildings however, the amount of energy that could be generated, and the consequent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, could be a giant leap forward in the battle against climate change.  In this blog, we look at how close we are to achieving that goal.

Cambridge-based startup Polysolar is developing see-through panels that can be designed into buildings, greenhouses and canopies. It has already utilised the new technology at two Sainsbury’s petrol stations and a canopy at the Barbican Centre in London, and its latest installations include a transparent solar bus shelter in the centre of London’s Canary Wharf.  However, research funding and green subsidy levels will dictate how quickly these panels become a widespread mainstream commodity.

To make this technology more affordable, government subsidies and investment in green technologies are necessary. Despite breakthrough innovations in creating a clear solar panel, production on a large scale is restricted by technological limitations and high costs.

The UK government could help by investing in greater research and development, with the result that once a mass production technique is achieved, it could be sold to other countries and companies around the world. Widespread uptake of the technology would further drive down costs and could make this practice an industry standard in the not too distant future.

solar panels in skyscrapers

However, such a radical transformation of energy generation is unlikely to go unchallenged by existing fossil fuel energy companies. Businesses with a focus on centralised distribution may increase funding of political lobbying to stop or restrain government support for such innovation for their own self-preservation.

Regardless of the challenges, once ‘clear solar panels’ can be readily integrated into the windows of our houses, workplaces, and leisure centres, our capacity to generate clean energy will be enormous. Clear solar panels will bring a huge change not only to local communities but also to our planet by massively reducing the amount of greenhouse gas emissions that come from our buildings .

The last twelve months have witnessed incredible expansion and change here at BHESCo. Our team has doubled in size  compared to this time last year, prompting a recent relocation to a larger office space within the Brighton Eco Centre. We raised £270,000, which we continue to plough into new community energy projects.

We have completed eight clean energy projects this year, including our largest project to date at the Montessori Place school in Uckfield.

Our Energy Saving Service that was launched in January 2016 has now completed over 200 domestic and commercial energy surveys.  We are now authorised to issue Energy Performance Certificates (EPC) and our application for a consumer credit licence was approved by the FCA.

It is always nice to be recognised for the work we do and we were humbled to receive several awards for our work in the community, which included a day out at the Houses of Parliament.

Being a relatively small team, there is no way we could possibly have achieved so much this year without the invaluable contributions of our many dedicated volunteers, and of course without the belief and community spirit of our members. Thank you everyone who has helped make BHESCo’s dream a reality – we wish you all a wonderful Christmas, and look forward to reporting again soon on the exciting new projects and programmes we have lined up for 2017!

 


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