Community Energy: Re-energizing the Local Power Scene

I’ve been writing about the need for a reconfiguration of British energy for a long time. On the infrastructural side things are a mess, and they don’t look any better from the spare capacity perspective, nor from the fuel poverty angle.  We’re on shaky ground relying on imports from countries halfway round the world that may decide to interrupt or divert our supplies if we hit turbulent political times, and the waste disposal issue is looking bleak as landfills across the country reach capacity, forcing us to pay other countries to take it off our hands. This leaves a particularly sour taste in the mouth as many of these countries use the very same refuse to generate power and sell it back to us, hitting the UK with a double fee and securing them a lucrative double payment. Talk about money for old rope…

If we could wipe the slate clean and build a power network across the UK from scratch today I highly doubt that it would look anything like the system we’ve got in place at the moment, with overstretched distribution lines groaning across far reaches of land and losing power as they travel great distances from the point of generation to end-users, patched together in a rather ad hoc fashion and totally unfit for 21st century demands. There’s no conversation between supply and demand, and a total absence of the grid intelligence seen in the networks of some of our European and Scandinavian neighbours. In terms of efficiency, carbon reduction, affordability, and security of supply, the current system just isn’t delivering.

So what would it look like in an ideal world? It probably depends on who you ask, but if we’re looking at addressing the four issues above, it seems to me that we could go a long way towards improving the situation if we simply took the power back into our own hands. It’s easy to feel jaded about these problems because of their scale, but in truth there are things we can do to slowly sort them out, one community at a time. Local energy centres fuelled by local waste and offering power and heat to local communities provide a suite of benefits: security of supply, cheaper power through the omission of various charges and levies associated with connection to the National Grid, lower emissions than traditional power plants, and a huge reduction in wastage between generation and end-users. Add to that the reduction of cost to councils who reduce their landfill waste, and indeed the potential for an income stream through the implementation of a community interest energy company that acts as power supplier to the region and ploughs profits back into the area, and you have a compelling upwards cycle.

Communities could be reinvigorated by these schemes, with individuals able to make the choice between the monopoly of the Big Six and their rocketing prices or a locally-based energy tariff that directly benefits them and their town. Joining up energy and waste strategies within an area is a challenge, as it requires collaboration between separate parts of local authorities, but I strongly believe in the value of exploring this opportunity to turn the burden of rubbish into a compelling solution to several very daunting problems. The way we live now is unsustainable. Alongside reducing our net consumption, we have to look to non-traditional means to harness energy from our environment. We have nailed our colours to the mast on this topic and are currently investigating the potential for an exemplar scheme in Northampton; you can read full details here.

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As Chairman of the Rolton Group, Peter provides high-level strategic advice to a range of governmental, public sector and commercial clients. He is an acknowledged specialist in the renewable energy sector, and there is good reason for this: when it comes to energy, Peter is clear about the issues we face and the need for a cohesive strategy to tackle them. He is a passionate advocate of informed debate, and has consistently brought clarity to this complex situation."If the UK is united on one thing about energy it is that, on an individual basis, the public knows what it’s not in favour of. When it comes to offering up solutions, it’s not that confident. Pointing at single solutions like wind farms and saying that they are too expensive is missing the point. Carbon-based forms of energy like oil and gas are running out. Energy is going to be more expensive and a portfolio of renewable energies will necessarily be part of our solution in the future." Peter holds particular expertise in the areas of site-wide energy planning, zero carbon power generation, low carbon design, carbon offsetting and the application of renewable technology. He has acted as a Government advisor on numerous consultations and white papers, presenting to the Secretary of State on a number of occasions on the subject of renewable planning and public sector engagement. He has worked as a strategic partner with some of the world’s largest and most successful blue-chip companies, and is a Director of Renewables East, the renewable energy agency for the east of England.Peter is both a chartered building services engineer and a chartered member of the Institute of Energy, and has gained accreditation under the Carbon Trust Consultant Accreditation Scheme for solution development, with particular expertise in the establishment of energy strategies. He founded his first business, Rolton Services Consultants Limited, in 1989, and founded Cool Planet Technologies, a specialist renewable energy delivery partner which was sold to British Gas in 2010. He has been the architect of the path through which Rolton Group has addressed the challenges of renewables, carbon and the built environment."We need to see the bigger picture and not become hung up on individual technologies and individual costs. We need a completely different technology mix and not a reliance on one form of energy supply. We need all forms of technology to be applied – and we need it to happen quickly."

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