British Academy report examines cultural factors shaping community energy projects

24 May 2016

The British Academy has today, Tuesday 24 May 2016, published a report on the cultural factors that shape the success of community energy projects.  Cultures of Community Energy suggests actions that can make community energy viable and sustainable. The report is accompanied by eleven international case studies exploring the cultural aspects of community energy projects. 

A working group of experts from across the energy sector drew on these case studies to suggest actions that can support the growth of community energy in the UK. From cascading responsibility for carbon reduction to local authorities, to exploring ways of upskilling communities starting such projects,Cultures of Community Energy sets out practical findings and suggestions for the local, community energy sector, and ideas for policy levers that could support its development.

The report suggests that a tradition of social enterprise or co-operation affected how easily a community energy group was established, whilst some projects also arose out of a ‘resistance spirit’ to large commercial energy projects, and the desire to do things differently. The authors also suggest that government financial incentives are important to encourage the development of community energy groups, but a long-term, predictable government policy on community energy is equally necessary to allow projects to thrive. 

To inform the report, the British Academy commissioned a team of researchers at the University of Lancaster to collate and present eleven international case studies of community energy projects in locations ranging from Brixton to Brazil. All were projects that generated and supplied renewable energy on a local scale, and were characterised by local ownership, participation and benefit sharing. 

Successful community energy projects featured in the case studies include:

• Bioenergy Village, Jühnde, Germany: a co-operative using biogas and woodchip to supply heat and power to residents of a small village, 75% of whom are investor members. The project was helped by a stable policy framework at the national level, support from local government, and a partnership with the University of Göttingen.

• Ecopower, Belgium: a Flanders co-operative which generates and supplies electricity directly to its 50,000 members, generated from wind turbines, solar and a combined heat and power plant. The co-operative or mutual model is relatively common in Belgium, which helps projects to gain acceptance.

• CRELUZ, Brazil: a co-operative social enterprise with six small hydroelectric plants in the Rio Grande Sol region. It has strong social goals, including free or discounted electricity for families living in poverty.

• Brixton Energy, South London: a rooftop solar co-operative supported by Lambeth Council. Local people were offered a stake in the project, including an apprenticeship scheme. 

Tim O’Riordan FBA, Emeritus Professor of Environmental Studies at the University of East Anglia said: 

“The British Academy is proud of this timely assessment of the cultures of community support and social sharing surrounding localised renewable energy schemes. These could form a vital part of the UK’s effective response to a low carbon energy future if allowed to flourish.”

Jim Watson, Research Director at the UK Energy Research Centre said:

“The UK energy system is undergoing an ambitious transition from a history of fossil fuel use towards a low carbon future. This report demonstrates how local communities can take part in, and benefit from, this transition. However, it also shows that more action is required to support new forms of social enterprise so that the potential of community energy can be realised.”

The reports and the full set of case studies can be downloaded from the British Academy website: 

Policy report

Case studies

Community brief 

Policy brief
Notes to editors
1. Cultures of Community Energy was written by Dr Neil Simcock, Rebecca Willis and Peter Capener, with the collaboration of Lancaster University. It formed part of a British Academy programme of public debates and engagement, research and workshops looking at key issues relating to energy and the environment. The report is accompanied by a full set of case studies.

2. For further information, a copy of the report or interviews with the authors please contact the British Academy’s Press Office on [email protected] or 020 7969 5227.

3. The British Academy for the humanities and social sciences. Established by Royal Charter in 1902. Its purpose is to inspire, recognise and support excellence and high achievement in the humanities and social sciences, throughout the UK and internationally, and to champion their role and value. For more information, please visit Follow the British Academy on Twitter @britac_news 

Contact the press office

For further information contact the Press Office on [email protected]  / 07500 010 432.

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