The transition to decentralised renewable energy
The continuing growth of renewable energy in the UK energy system, and its associated technological advancements, are key drivers behind the move toward a more decentralised approach to energy generation. This decentralised approach is fundamentally changing the way consumers are engaging with renewable energy. The transition is both welcome and necessary if we are to meet Scottish and UK Government net zero targets and mitigate the worst impacts of global warming. It also has the potential to create new opportunities for consumers in terms of how they produce, consume and buy energy to meet their needs. The transition to decentralised energy generation will require significant financial and civic commitment from across the social spectrum.
The role of community energy
Historically, community energy projects in Scotland have tended to focus on energy generation to enable communities to create and retain much needed income for local reinvestment and regeneration activities. However, the community energy sector has the potential to do so much more. Reducing how much energy we consume is widely viewed as essential if we are to reduce carbon emissions and enable a more secure and flexible low carbon energy system. Community anchor organisations have the potential to play a significant role in inspiring, supporting and reinforcing this behaviour change.
Community and Covid-19
The value of community-centred approaches has been brought into sharp focus by the Covid-19 pandemic. Vital support services were planned, co-ordinated and delivered by grassroots organisations with a speed and efficiency that could not have been matched by centralised decision-makers. The ability to quickly assess need, rally capacity and respond in times of crisis relies heavily on local connections and partnerships, the value of which cannot be overstated.
Community groups and raising awareness
In a post-Covid world, community groups have the potential to help drive renewable energy projects by building trust in, and raising awareness of, more poorly understood low carbon energy sources and technologies including hydrogen, heat pumps and heat networks. Many of these groups already provide important advisory services on energy efficiency and have played a key role in encouraging people to reduce their energy consumption, but a lack of core support means that most do not have the capacity to carry out this vital work.
Community Energy Scotland believes this lack of capacity is a fundamental hindrance to the growth of community energy and we are seeking to address this with our Community Energy Futures programme. The programme supports community groups by bringing them up to speed with recent developments in the energy system, positioning them to take advantage of emerging opportunities and gain practical benefit at an individual consumer level and a collective community level.
Community energy and the green recovery
Much has been written about the concept of a post-Covid-19 ‘green recovery’. There is an opportunity for developed Western nations (some of the biggest contributors to global carbon emissions) to implement far reaching policy commitments to enable a just transition. Community Energy Scotland have published our own Next Steps document, laying out our vision for community energy and its potential to play a much more significant role in establishing a flexible, localised and low carbon energy system.
There is an opportunity to reduce carbon emissions and create a fairer economy that benefits everyone, and embedded community groups are in a prime position to help drive the necessary changes in behaviour to help facilitate this transition. We must give them the knowledge, resources and support they need.
By Victoria Mackay, Community Energy Scotland