The National Campaign for a Community Energy Revolution

Image courtesy of Aberdeen Community Energy

Community energy has the potential to significantly reduce the costs that we all must pay for our energy. The work that community energy groups do across Scotland and the rest of the UK, beyond renewable generation, is as impressive as it is varied: from fuel poverty relief, to grant giving, to helping improve energy efficiency in their local areas.

In 2014, a government report stated that community energy could deliver 3,000 MW of power-generating capacity by 2020 and that the potential for growth beyond this was even more substantial. With Community Energy currently contributing around 330 MW, and having barely grown UK-wide since that report came out, it is clear that this potential has not been realised. Last year the Environmental Audit Committee said that by 2030 the community energy sector could be up to 20 times larger, if given the right policy support. Without that support however, this potential will continue to be wasted.

It is important to note how scalable Community Energy could be. This is not a niche thing to be enjoyed only by those lucky enough to have a scheme near them: there are extensive natural resources across Scotland that remain untapped. Many more local wind, solar and hydro installations could spring up all over the country, and thrive if given the chance.

The major block that must be removed is that at present it is impossible for community energy projects to sell the energy they generate directly to local people, except those who supply through necessity, as their communities are off-grid. The process of becoming an on-grid licenced supplier is wholly disproportionate – upwards of £1 million – and so burdensome that currently none exist across the whole of the UK.

Under the current regulations and excluding those off the grid, supply is only feasible at a national level. As a result, it is extremely difficult for local schemes to get a fair price for the energy they generate. At present they can either sell back into the grid or to a large national utility, both at fractions of the cost we all pay for our energy. Many projects struggle or go under, and many more find that setting up a project is not financially viable.

In the existing market setup, scaling up community energy is not feasible: we are campaigning for change. We have drafted the Local Electricity Bill, which is in Parliament as a proposed piece of legislation, and are building support to try and see it made law. The Bill would make the costs and complexities of becoming a local supplier proportionate to the scale of the generation project. This would fundamentally change the financials around setting up and running a community energy project, by creating a new potential source of revenue.

The benefits of such a change felt locally would be significant. If local people were able to buy their clean energy directly from a local co-operative supplier, not only would they be able to get it for a fairer price, but by keeping the money circulating within our local areas, that money could go towards supporting local businesses and new skilled local jobs, and could be reinvested into our communities through local initiatives like fuel poverty relief.

Over 80 national and international organisations have added their names in support of the Bill, including Solar Energy UK, British Hydropower Association, the Association for Renewable Energy and Clean Technology, Energy Saving Trust, 4 of the UK’s 6 Distribution Network Operators (DNOs, the companies that own and manage the UK’s regional grid infrastructure), RSPB, The National Trust, Greenpeace, WWF and many more. Over 1000 local organisations and councils have also added their names in support all over the UK, and we are hoping that many more will continue to do so.

Through our work, and as a result of many people and organisations across the UK advocating often and loudly for the Bill, a cross-party group of 306 MPs have added their names in support. This is close to a majority in Parliament, and is extremely encouraging progress. If you have taken action for the Bill already, thank you very much – it is because of you that we are close to winning.

Back in November of last year, we organised a debate about the Bill in Parliament. Because it was well attended by MPs from all over the UK and from all major parties, the Energy Minister, Greg Hands, agreed to meet with us to discuss the technical detail of how the Bill could be implemented. As a result of this meeting with Mr Hands and his policy advisors, we have drafted a new policy discussion paper, and are in the process of scheduling another meeting.

The upcoming Energy Security Bill, which was announced in the Queen’s Speech in May, is a fantastic opportunity. The first energy Bill for almost 10 years, its intentions are to ensure the security and decarbonisation of the UK’s energy supply. Community Energy should rightly be a part of these considerations, as it has huge potential to deliver both.

In the coming months, we plan to organise that provisions for Community Energy, such as those contained in the Local Electricity Bill, are included as a clause in this new Energy Security Bill. We are in a promising position: with 306 MPs on board already, nearly a majority in Parliament support the campaign. We will continue to work to ensure that this opportunity is not missed, and please do all that you can to help ensure that as well.

If you have not yet signed up to support our campaign, either as an organisation or as an individual, please do so. Our website has a list of all the MPs that support the Bill so far: if your MP does not yet support the Bill, please urge them to do so by writing to and meeting with them. If your MP does support it, please ask them to speak in favour of the need to enable and empower community energy generation schemes at the upcoming Second Reading of the Westminster Government’s

Energy Security Bill. If you would like suggested points to make when asking your MP to do this please get in touch with us.

A big thank you to everyone who has already been campaigning with us for this change. Together, we can win this.

Rupert Meadows, Campaigns and Engagement Officer, Power for People – Guest blog

At Community Energy Scotland we value our team’s and communities’ opinions. Blogs are a chance for us, our members and guests to share personal opinions and expertise, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Community Energy Scotland as an organisation. Please note opinions may change and Community Energy Scotland does not offer any endorsements.

N76 Energy in Motion Kick-off

Part 1

Earlier this month, the six partners that make up the N76 project, alongside three members of Community Energy Scotland staff – Matthew Logan, Benny Talbot and myself, congregated in person for the first time to officially set the wheels in motion (pun intended!). The project supports communities throughout the Nith Valley region to develop low carbon community transport initiatives. The Keir, Penpont & Tynron Development Trust (KPTDT) dutifully offered to host the day’s proceedings at their Three Villages Café in Penpont. The remaining parties descended upon the village from various points along the Nith Valley, including Sanquhar, Kirkconnell & Kelloholm, New Cumnock, Closeburn and Moniave.

Fully caffeinated and comfortably in from the cold, we began with a novel activity I’ve come to call “Virtue Signals”. Aware of its use mainly as a pejorative and keen to reclaim the term for good, the aim of the activity was for each participant to introduce their communities by a virtuous characteristic and to accompany said virtue with a hand gesture or “signal”. Resilience, eclecticism, stoicism and creativity were among those mentioned; all of which would inform the discussions to be had later in the day.

With introductions out of the way, we sought to further engage our bodies and minds and set about constructing a “People Map”. Imagining the café floor as a map of mainland Scotland (not to scale), participants were tasked with positioning themselves in relation to one another to reflect where they had travelled from to attend the event. We then arranged ourselves in order of shortest to longest journey in terms of both distance and time. This exercise gave us a sense of the geographic scale of the project as well as the disparity between modes of transit and overall journey time.

Feeling suitably energised, we next set aside some time for reflecting on three simple questions – How did we get here? Where are we going? How do we get there? These questions were made deliberately open to try and evoke answers both literal and figurative. Respondents were urged to reflect on not only the modes of transport we used to be there, but also the motivations that lead each of us to join the project; not just the journeys that we make on a regular basis, but the direction that we foresee the project going in; and not simply the forms of future mobility we’d like to see, but the necessary steps we would need to take to achieve those outcomes.

Having plunged the depths of our collective imaginations, we then took some time to review some of the baseline research I had conducted within the first few weeks since assuming my role as project officer. This process allowed me to identify what I perceived as the common desires and interests shared among the partnership, and how that might inform the direction of the project. With that we announced a comfort break, but left the various charts and figures on full display to be mulled over during our down time.

Re-caffeinated and fully digested of all data, we then got down to brass tacks – namely identifying and prioritising the themes that we intend to explore over the course of our event series. This was an arduous process that saw us initially divide into two groups before coalescing to find consensus within the chaos. Without too much compromise, we eventually found a natural order that best represented the interests of all involved parties. Satisfied with the outcome of our consensus building, we drew a close to our morning session and declared a break for lunch – a hearty root vegetable stew with homemade cornbread lovingly prepared by our generous hosts. Yum!

Part 2

Following lunch, Maureen Halkertt, chair of the KPTDT, provided us with an overview of the proposed active travel path that, when completed, will eventually join the village of Penpont with neighbouring Thornhill. Presently, Thornhill is only accessible by narrow country road and is plagued by fast-moving cars and heavy agricultural vehicles; the likes of which makes it unpleasant and, in some cases, too hazardous to navigate by active means. A segregated path of appropriate construction would mean that children as young as 12 could walk or wheel to secondary school unsupervised and with relative ease. 

Another of KPT’s board members, Sue King Smith, told us about her involvement in the development of a micro-hydro generation site for the village. Initial feasibility studies suggested that a micro-hydro would not be viable; however, local knowledge prevailed and, contrary to official records, the direction of flow further upstream of the Marr burn meant that there was sufficient fall to generate enough electricity to power the equivalent of 30 homes. The site also houses a modest sensory garden consisting of aromatic herbs and even some connectivity for a potential electric vehicle charging site.  

Next, KPT development officer Senga Greenwood spoke about her experience of procuring a fleet of eight electric bikes and one electric cargo bike for use by both community members and visitors alike. Given the disparate nature of KPT’s remit, finding a way in which communal assets can be shared equitably throughout the community was no easy task; however, with the express consent of all three villages, Senga arrived at a solution in which a single point of distribution would be situated in Penpont, which happens to be the largest and most central of the three villages.  

Due to launch over the Easter period, the e-bike scheme will be freely accessible to all local residents for the first six months. It is hoped that beyond this initial period, the program will generate enough revenue to achieve financial stability and be fiscally self-sustaining within its first year of operation. The program will also provide local employment opportunities in the form of custodial and maintenance roles, who will themselves receive support and training to become certified in e-bike servicing and repairs. 

Finally, we ventured to the other side of the village to inspect a new community growing space. Once the tennis court of a nearby estate, the site had been disused for a number of decades and become overgrown before it was generously offered up by the local laird for use by the community. The modest 3/4 of an acre site sits nestled on the banks of the Scaur water. Plans exist to erect raised beds and polytunnels to facilitate skills sharing and knowledge exchange with a view of building a resilient local community with the necessary resources to make healthier, more cost effective choices with regards to food, whilst also providing a safe and inviting space in which to congregate. 

In an attempt to connect the theme of community growing with transport, I proposed another new activity – this one called simply “food miles”. I had brought with me a selection of five vegetables that I’d purchased from my local supermarket, all of which could potentially be grown in Scotland given the right conditions and seasonality, and tasked participants with guessing the country of origin of each item. Spring onions? Egypt. Garlic? Spain. Spinach? Italy. Squash? South Africa! Even the act of driving to the shops is perhaps made redundant given the ability to grow fresh produce within a walking distance of your own home; and while ¾ of an acre might not feed an entire village, community growing spaces are instrumental in bridging existing skills gaps and reconnecting people with the simple act of growing.  

On that note we trundled back to the Three Villages Café for some final reflections before bidding farewell and parting ways. Until next time! 

Liam Templeton, N76 EiM Project Officer @CES

At Community Energy Scotland we value our team’s and communities’ opinions. Blogs are a chance for us, our members and guests to share personal opinions and expertise, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Community Energy Scotland as an organisation. Please note opinions may change and Community Energy Scotland does not offer any endorsements.

What is the RIIO-ED2 Business Plan and why is it important for Community Energy?

For the last two years, in addition to his regular role, CES’ Benny Talbot has been inputting to the RIIO ED2 process for deciding how our energy networks are invested in. Below he reflects on
the process, and the likely changes ahead.

What is RIIO and why does it matter?

RIIO was created as a way to agree 5 year investment plans between Ofgem (the energy system regulator) and the Distribution Network Operators (DNOs) who own the network. This is needed for two main reasons. Firstly, because DNOs are sole network owners and operators in a given area, overseen by the regulator, Ofgem, which aims to create economic competition, ensuring that existing and future consumers pay a fair price for the cost of running these networks and get the services they require – the DNOs must balance this with the need to ensure the UK remains internationally competitive to shareholder investment; and secondly because ownership of the UK distribution network is divided between 14 regions, owned by 6 separate companies, so RIIO is there to help Ofgem set common standards for investments and standards of service across the whole of the UK.

UK DNO Regions
Image credit: Barryob at English Wikipedia

While in practice RIIO is a long and complicated process, the essence of it is quite simple – first Ofgem sets out its expectations, then each DNO draws up and costs an investment plan to meet those expectations, and finally Ofgem reviews the plans and makes a decision on which parts of the plans to OK, and which to challenge or reject. All investment agreed upon is ultimately charged by the DNOs to energy consumers via their bills, plus a regulated profit margin.

However, the Climate Crisis has transformed RIIO from a complex but routine budgeting excise for maintaining the grid, into a key strategic forum to ensure we can achieve net zero, due to the massive strategic investment now needed to enable the grid to support the electrification of heat and transport, and the continued expansion of renewables.

This has also placed a dilemma at the heart of the RIIO process. Keeping investment as low as possible would mitigate the already spiralling cost of living crisis, but exacerbate the very real risk that constraints on the electricity network prevent or delay effective climate action. A better way forwards would be to pay for strategic investment in our networks via progressive taxation, not energy bills – but that decision is rests with the government. Until then, Ofgem is forced to navigate between two competing demands: fuel poverty, or climate action?

The RIIO process is struggling to evolve to meet these new tensions. In particular, given the rapid changes we are seeing in climate plans, targets, and the technology evolving to help meet these needs, the 5 year planning cycles of RIIO are beginning to look increasingly clunky. Instead, an increasing number of ad hoc ‘uncertainty mechanisms’ are being proposed to allow decision making within the 5 year periods. However, the devil will be in the detail of these new uncertainty mechanisms, and it remains to be seen whether they will be able to reach the right decisions, decide fast enough, or enable meaningful consultation with energy system users.

‘DSO’ and the implications for Community Energy

My role in all of this was as a member of the Consumer Engagement Group (CEG) for the SP Energy Networks (SPEN) region (the SP Energy Networks region covers southern Scotland, northern Wales and Merseyside). Over the course of the last two years, as SPEN developed their plan, they were to provide us with regular updates and the CEG was tasked with challenging SPEN’s plans to ensure that the needs and preferences of the energy system’s users were being taken into account. The CEG then wrote our own report on SPEN’s plan, to help Ofgem make its final decision.

Within the CEG, I led on responding to SPEN’s ‘DSO’ plans. DSO stands for Distribution System Operator, and describes a change in how networks could operate, in order to free up significant extra capacity. The basic idea is that instead of running a ‘fit and forget’ system, with enough spare capacity to ride out even the largest expected surges in demand or generation, DNOs could use modern digital technology to monitor and control power flows in real time. Much more demand and generation could then be connected to the existing wires, because the DNO would be confident that when the occasional surge in generation or demand arrived they could detect it and respond in real time (eg. by temporarily turning down some loads or generators) and keep the network safe. While there is no way to avoid the need for massive new investment in the network to enable net zero, DSO could reduce these costs and free up network capacity faster than would otherwise be possible.

However for DSO to really succeed, there will need to be a change in how we as energy users relate to the network. This is beginning to be seen as a need for ‘democratisation’ of the network, with energy users becoming more important and active participants – and also an opportunity for customers to earn money by providing ‘flexibility’ services to the DNO, in turning energy use or generation up and down to help manage network constraints. Of course, sharing more data on our energy use and installing new smart technology also comes with risks. Foremost among these are a loss of privacy, increasingly complex electricity bills, and/or those who are less tech savvy being left behind, ending up with systems they don’t understand and paying more for their energy.

Community energy groups, as local trusted intermediaries, should have a key role in bringing people together to navigate this new system, and support those who will otherwise be left behind. Meanwhile DSO could also open up new opportunities for community-led local energy projects, for example where groups bring together local energy users or generators to contract with their DNO and collectively deliver ‘flexibility’ services to the network.

SPEN’s RIIO ED2 DSO plans contain significant commitments, including; to roll out network monitoring and real time control via ‘CMZ’ zones (which can include Active Network Management) across around half of their network by 2028; to provide 80% of new generators with a flexible connection option alongside their standard connection offer; and adopt an ’assumed open’ process for the data they collect, sharing it via an online hub.

CEG photo images’ credit: SP Energy Networks

Among other issues, I challenged SPEN on how well they were able to consult on their DSO plans given the complexity of this new field, to provide much more specific commitments on what network data they will share, and to give meaningful consideration to where supporting domestic energy efficiency could be used as an alternative to network reinforcement. SPEN now propose to set up an independent panel to ensure that customers and stakeholders’ needs are represented as the DSO rollout continues, and have fleshed out their proposals for data sharing to include real time data and impending curtailment forecasts on ANM networks to enable curtailment trading – data that community generators on Orkney (in the SSEN rather than SPEN zone) have been requesting for the last 5 years.

Challenges from me and colleagues in the CEG also played a key role in SPEN deciding to publish a Just Transition Strategy and a Community Energy Strategy for the first time, both of which SPEN now propose to maintain and update regularly. I was impressed at how SPEN staff took forward these issues, recognising the significant role that community groups could play, and coming forwards with proposals significantly beyond the baseline required by Ofgem, including proposing a £30 million Net Zero fund (of which 25% would be ring fenced for support of community energy), and to provide dedicated community energy advice, awareness raising and technical support services, as well as support to local authorities in making Local Area Energy Plans.

Some key outstanding questions remain. Firstly, whether (and how) SPEN and other DNOs will recognise the potential for domestic energy efficiency upgrades to be used as an alternative to reinforcing the network. Secondly, how far DSO should be run as a separate entity to the DNO to avoid conflicts of interest – SPEN haven’t gone as far in separating the two as some UKPN, for example. Finally, it remains to be seen both exactly how much extra capacity DSO will free up, how cheaply, and how fast new capacity will actually be needed in the network; but the crucial mechanisms for monitoring its effectiveness, and scaling DSO and traditional network investment accordingly are not yet entirely clear.

SPEN’s RIIO ED2 plan and their DSO plan have now been published and can be viewed online, as can the CEG’s report on these plans to Ofgem. Ofgem will hold an open hearing on SPENs plan on 24th March, which is open to the public to attend, and expect to make final determinations on all plans this winter. The RIIO ED2 plans will then guide network investment from 2023 to 2028.

Benny Talbot, Innovation Development Manager @CES

At Community Energy Scotland we value our team’s and communities’ opinions. Blogs are a chance for us, our members and guests to share personal opinions and expertise, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Community Energy Scotland as an organisation. Please note opinions may change and Community Energy Scotland does not offer any endorsements.

Three Months On: Reflections on the legacy of COP26

Given another winter of restrictions, variants, uncertainty, and now punishing storms, it would be easy to forget that only three months ago, Glasgow played host to the world’s largest summit on global action for climate change: COP26.

For those able to be in Glasgow at the time the memories may have lingered longer: morning queues, frenetic hallways, busy meeting rooms, lecture theatres and cafes. People, people and more people! From hardened protesters outside the conference entrance to inspirational speakers at events, marches as part of the Climate Fringe, and experts, officials and dignitaries participating within COP26 official boundaries. But for many the conference and its legacy are likely to have faded to memory as soon as headlines moved on to a new topic. With some time now since the conference to spur people on to acting rather than talking, it seems right to take a look around at the legacy of COP26 so far.

With an event of the grandeur and significance of COP26, the risk of underwhelming or anti-climactic outcomes is always high. Alongside claims from figures such as Greta Thunberg that the conference was no more than a greenwashing opportunity for governments and businesses, and disappointment in the seemingly undercooked “Glasgow Climate Pact”, there are encouraging signs that gears of change may be starting to turn across in both Government and society across Scotland.

Indeed, the ScotWind auction results announced earlier in the year bring the promise of a step change in Scotland’s sustainability journey; the potential generation capacity of 25GW from Scotland’s renewables is more than double the currently installed renewable generation. As with COP26, this step has been led by business and government. Thus, the jury is out on whether the potential for community benefit from offshore developments is delivered. Proactive developers signing Memorandums of Understanding with local authorities and community development trusts is a promising sign of wider ScotWind benefit, as is work by organisations such as Highlands and Islands Enterprise to inform regional businesses of upcoming supply chain opportunities. However, the proof will be in the pudding as to how far and wide the benefits of ScotWind are blown.

On a community scale the level of local, regional and national cooperation and coordination that brought such a hive of activity to Glasgow and beyond, and which was oft mentioned by those within the Blue Zone of COP26, has gone from strength to strength, a new era of re-invigorated regional partnerships of organisations taking action on climate change and sustainability seems to be dawning. Supported by the Scottish Government, two Regional Community Climate Action Hubs covering the Northern Highlands and Islands and Aberdeenshire have been established and are busy taking unique approaches to supporting their networks and local communities.

Building on these trials with the intention of setting up networks which will be primed to launch a second round of hubs, the Scottish Community Climate Action Network are accepting Expressions of Interest from regions interested in establishing their own networks and building more collective action. These initiatives are encouraging to say the least and hopefully reflect a new approach to engaging and acting on climate change from the Scottish Government. Supporting well-informed organisations to act locally and find solutions that work where they work.

Despite media attention somewhat predictably moving back to sleaze and scandal in the South and the ever rising scale of the climate challenge ahead we can take heed that we are moving in the right direction and the will of communities who wish to continue to make Scotland a more sustainable place to live remains strong. COP27 is now only 9 months away and no doubt will bring with it another round to virtue signalling, target setting and enthusiastic posturing, all necessary parts of the process of changes perhaps.

The current crisis in Ukraine has of course thrown the partnership expressed at COP into doubt and the safety and sovereignty of Ukraine and its population will rightly take priority over global efforts to achieve sustainability. However, the climate crisis will not go away and now more than ever we must collaborate locally, nationally and internationally to create action and change from the many discussions of COP26. We can take some comfort in the signs of change emerging and the day-in-day-out efforts of individuals, communities and organisations working for a more sustainable future in a post COP Scotland.

Matthew Logan, Development Officer @CES

At Community Energy Scotland we value our team’s and communities’ opinions. Blogs are a chance for us, our members and guests to share personal opinions and expertise, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Community Energy Scotland as an organisation. Please note opinions may change and Community Energy Scotland does not offer any endorsements.

Local energy solutions: an important tool in alleviating fuel poverty

Unprecedented increases in energy costs are set to have a devastating impact on households across Scotland this winter. £250 has been added to average bills compared with last winter. It is estimated that a further £350 could be added in the spring.

Energy companies are failing every week and cheaper fixed deals have all but disappeared. Pre-pandemic, a quarter of households, over 600,000 in number, were struggling with their energy costs. Energy Action Scotland estimate that is set rise by over 100,000 households as the universal credit uplift is removed, furlough has ended, and people remain at home, increasing the number of fuel poor households in Scotland as high as one in three in the foreseeable future. 

These figures sit in contrast to the rest of the UK (note that the most recent figures are all pre-pandemic) 

  • In 2019 (the most recent Scottish House Condition Survey), Scotland’s levels of fuel poverty were estimated at 613,000, or 24.6 per cent of households;   
  • Northern Ireland was estimated at 131,000 households in 2018, or 18 per cent of households.   
  • Wales was estimated at 155,000 in 2018, or 12 per cent of households; 
  • England was estimated at around 2.4 million in 2018, or 10.3 per cent of households  

COP26 in Glasgow has provided a focus for discussions on achieving NetZero globally. Scotland has its ambitions to achieve NetZero enshrined in legislation for 2045. Our fuel poverty target of only 5% of households is similarly enshrined but for 2040. It is a challenge.  

Genuine transition needed

To make progress there needs to be huge systemic movement. Our relationship with energy needs to change. The stealth taxes that so unfairly burden those on the lowest incomes need to be removed. We have long argued against the unfairness of tax levies on gas and especially on electricity. Fairness dictates, that these should sit within general taxation.  Energy supplier funded research into how policy costs are applied to energy bills appears to agree that the current position isn’t fair and isn’t part of a just transition. However, it does appear that this research favours a redistribution of policy costs and the introduction of a carbon charge. An interesting proposal but less fair than moving these costs to general taxation.

It will be difficult to change the behaviour of the public set against a backdrop where millions of households in the UK are in energy debt. Scotland’s Energy Consumers Commission is rightly concerned. As a Commissioner I am very troubled by what I see. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation estimates that over 4million households are already in debt and that 1.4million households are behind on energy bills, making the transition to NetZero even more complicated and stressful for people.  

There is a risk that decarbonisation could come with a dogmatic approach that isn’t sensitive to the issues faced by vulnerable and low-income households. Environmentalists have waited a long time to be taken this seriously and by underestimating the challenge in shifting the lives of people already disenfranchised and on the margins of society, there is a risk of social collateral damage. Of course, there will be an improvement in the long term to the quality of our lives and indeed potentially our health and wellbeing. But there needs to be genuine transition, signals, and incentives to engage us all on this journey.  

Insulation, improvements to the fabric of building are essential but we will need to look a lot deeper and further if we are to meet our NetZero ambitions.  

Optimistic horizon

I genuinely believe that we stand at a new dawn for our relationship with energy. Where there will be room for diversity, for heat networks, for community ownership, local energy generation, for domestic renewable energy, as well as a shift in the perspectives of our scaled energy generation, our energy infrastructure, and suppliers. The signs are there. Targets are being set. Policy and strategies are being developed. Governments and society more widely understand the rationale for change and indeed what needs to change. I am optimistic, in the medium to long term certainly. Short term I am concerned about the collateral damage, the loss of life, of health and wellbeing, as energy becomes unaffordable for far too many. 

Targeted local energy solutions should be able to protect communities from the fluctuations of the energy market especially in areas that are off-gas. 43% of households in electrically heated homes find themselves in fuel poverty. The current price shocks will have increased this and put even more households into extreme fuel poverty.  

We will need to mobilise unprecedented levels of support to even approach something like a standstill for fuel poor households. A vibrant community energy sector is essential if we are to overcome fuel poverty and meet our NetZero ambitions 

Frazer Scott, CEO at Energy Action Scotland, founded in 1983 it is Scotland’s fuel poverty charity – guest blog

At Community Energy Scotland we value our team’s and communities’ opinions. Blogs are a chance for us, our members and guests to share personal opinions and expertise, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Community Energy Scotland as an organisation. Please note opinions may change and Community Energy Scotland does not offer any endorsements.

Getting access to an EV is important but how can you?

It doesn’t matter how great low carbon transport technology is if only a minority can access it. That is true of electric vehicles (EVs) also. To reach net zero, we don’t all have to buy an EV to replace each one of our petrol/diesel cars and vans. In fact, I think we shouldn’t. There are alternatives to buying an EV. This would directly contribute to the urgent need to reduce the number of vehicles manufactured each year while phasing out fossil fueled vehicles. In any sustainable transport system multiple ways to access travel have to be taken into consideration.

Active travel like walking and cycling, and the infrastructure to make this safe, should be maximised where possible, and public transport improved. However, sometimes a car or van is needed.

I work for Community Energy Scotland and have been working on the ReFLEX Orkney project (part funded by UKRI) which is aiming to decarbonise the local system in Orkney by building a smart local energy system. Transport is just one element of the project and I want to share with you some of the solutions we’ve been looking at to increase people’s access to low carbon cars and vans: Community Transport, Car Clubs, and leasing of EVs.

Community Transport

Community Energy Scotland have supported island communities to own and operate EVs to aid residents get around areas where there is no alternative public transport. Rather than have a big EV minibus, multiple smaller EVs were preferred by three of the island communities we’ve worked with as it allows more flexibility to operate the services they provide. A smaller vehicle is better for accessing properties that have long & narrow or bumpy access roads. There’s more confidence that if one EV battery is low, it can be charged while the other is used. Both can be used for totally different trips at the same time and quite often a smaller vehicle would suffice for the journey.

Each island group has decided to operate two eNV200s. One a seven seater, and one a five seater with wheelchair access. The wheelchair access ramp folds away so doubles up as a very large boot for deliveries of goods when wheelchair access isn’t required. During the first lockdown this was very useful as it helped the communities to offer essential deliveries including food and medicines.

It’s also given the communities a chance to fill in transport gaps and supplement statutory or council services. For instance, some of the vehicles are being used to fulfil school bus contracts. All in all, this is a solution that is really flexible to meet the needs of the community.

Image credit: Community Energy Scotland
Image credit: ReFLEX/Colin Keldie

Car Clubs

The ReFLEX project contracted Co-wheels to run two electric car club locations alongside the three that were set up in Orkney just before the pandemic. Co-wheels car club is a pay-as-you-go electric car hire scheme. There is no upfront cost if joining as part of the ReFLEX project and is just £4.13 per hour to hire in Orkney. There aren’t reams of paperwork to fill out every time you want to book an EV and there is no key swapping as you access the car via your smart card, issued to you when you sign up.

Both locations are close to ferry terminals that connect the outer and inner Orkney islands so residents can be foot passengers and pick up the car club car on the other side. CoMoUK (The charity for the public benefit of shared cars, bikes, e‑scooters and rides) has gathered evidence across many locations in the UK of an increased uptake of active travel when there is access to a car club and that fewer vehicles are purchased.

Image credit: ReFLEX/Colin Keldie


Leasing is another option if you need sole use of a vehicle rather than any of the options above. The ‘lifetime cost’ of an EV is less than that of a petrol/diesel and leasing greatly reduces one of the main barriers to realise this saving, the initial cost. The difference in the initial cost between an old petrol/diesel and a second-hand EV can be staggering and it may not be possible for some of us to afford that cost. Leasing still has an initial cost in the order of £1000 but this is significantly less than buying it outright. This would then be followed by monthly payments for the duration of the lease.


I challenge you to look at the low carbon transport options near you and try them out! Is it safe to walk or cycle? Is there a car club? Does your local community run a transport service? If the answers are ‘no’ but you want them to be ‘yes’, get in touch with your local council and community groups.

Eibhlin Lee, Trading Manager @CES. Original blog written for ‘This is Engineering Day’, IoM3 as the then CES ReFLEX Project Manager

At Community Energy Scotland we value our team’s and communities’ opinions. Blogs are a chance for us, our members and guests to share personal opinions and expertise, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Community Energy Scotland as an organisation. Please note opinions may change and Community Energy Scotland does not offer any endorsements.

Energy, Green Spaces, and Local Food

Here at Community Energy Scotland we are trying to put together a project to look at funding the costs of a scheme like this for maybe 10-15 partner organisations to begin planning together for a local and fair renewable energy transition in food, gardening, and greenspace projects.

If you would like to be part of that, please follow the link to our survey and give us the information we need to get that first foot on the road!

Often the renewable energy sector is seen to be all about high tech solutions to decarbonising our energy use and, if not at odds with the local food movement, at least not connected to it. Community Energy Scotland works to transform the energy system in a way that is organic (all puns intended!), locally specific and of benefit to the people who live in Scotland.

Our energy model involves the creation of a Scotland-wide grassroots energy sector acting as a complimentary alternative to the commercial renewable energy sector. It is not our vision to replace the commercial engines for change, but rather to work alongside and partner creatively with commerce and grant-funding public sector organisations to enable the transformational change required to meet Net Zero goals by 2030. This community-led, grass-roots (yes, another pun!) approach means that very different diverse community energy projects can work alongside each other for common goals.

It then follows that if we want to be truly holistic and local in our approach to community benefits, in food, energy and greenspace, we could work together in small and local ways to improve and integrate our decarbonising. This is what I call the ‘Decarbonising Dividend’: the social positives from doing what we can to share our challenges and solutions as we attempt to reach the ‘Net Zero’ goals. Of course, the concept of ‘Net Zero’ is itself controversial and I’ll be writing more on that soon, but for food and energy in a local context, it is a useful idea – that decarbonising should be fair but also embrace difference. Dignity and inclusion are key values in a fair journey to a local net-zero carbon footprint. To keep those values at the fore, we can’t envisage a ‘one-size fits all’ approach, but rather, we need local and specific sustainability plans which are unique to each project or community group.

For the grower who could extend the season, or bring on a few more plants that benefit from heat, light or shelter, then a small-scale ‘behind the meter’ (that is not selling electricity to the grid as its primary purpose) energy project might bring down overheads and improve yields without adding to the overall carbon footprint of the greenspace or food project. It would be possible, perhaps, to add a car charger or to have ‘green gym’ dynamo-bikes in a set up like this and to also add to the information available to volunteers or customers about the different factors involved in a truly decarbonised community.

Some food projects and community gardens are already ‘off-grid’ in terms of not having electric power connected, it may be that a solution for them would be a small set-up which would entirely be a ‘private wire’ and so not connect to the grid at all. This avoids connection charges and would enable the volunteers and staff to use green electricity on-site without an electricity bill.

We are sure there are many more ideas than these to gather, so please, fill out our survey and we can work together for holistic, inclusive, decarbonised local communities.

Janet Foggie, CEO @CES

At Community Energy Scotland we value our team’s and communities’ opinions. Blogs are a chance for us, our members and guests to share personal opinions and expertise, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Community Energy Scotland as an organisation. Please note opinions may change and Community Energy Scotland does not offer any endorsements.

Next Steps: One year on

Community Energy Scotland did not sit idle through the COVID-19 pandemic. A year ago today, we published our ‘Next Steps’ document which sets out a vision for Scotland in 2025:

‘The decentralised energy system has enabled the growth of a new tier of local energy suppliers who are contributing to a wider process of economic localisation, retaining more value in local communities and helping to underpin a renaissance of community life. Local production and supply of essential goods and services – the foundations for a good quality of life and resilience – is widespread, with safe and sustainable local transport options, powered by local energy. … We have achieved a robust and sustainable system, with high level of public participation, awareness and contribution to decision-making.’

Of course, in July 2020 we could not see the second wave of COVID-19 that was to hit by Christmas, nor the speed with which the Delta Variant would travel the globe. COVID-19 has hit harder and with a deeper bite than we could have imagined. Nurseries, schools, universities, and workplaces have all been closed far longer than was initially predicted. Yet some of the positives we saw emerging in July 2020 have indeed stayed the course, there has been increased community effort and a caring for our neighbours that has got many people through the pandemic more safely than we might have imagined. The Scottish Government produced a report by the summer of 2020, which showed that pre-existing inequalities affected the impact of COVID-19 on a variety of people who live in Scotland; ‘It is now clear from emerging evidence that the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis arising from the direct and indirect effects of contracting the illness, as well as the lockdown measures put in place to control spread of the virus, are significant and unequal’. Housing, fuel poverty and food insecurity being the three biggest issues cited, alongside, racial inequalities, a rise in domestic abuse and the collapse of some job sectors such as tourism, retail and entertainment/the arts.

Throughout the crisis of 2020-21, there has been an acknowledged connection between fuel poverty and food insecurity, in tackling one, we need to tackle the other. Nourish Scotland have been campaigning hard for a ‘Right To Food’ we, at Community Energy Scotland, are aware that food insecurity cannot be solved alone. It must also mean enabling people to have the ability to cook at home, to live in warm, sustainable, housing and to travel within a Net Zero society. For energy, just as for food, the role of the community level organisation is key:

Community groups can play a number of key roles in the energy transition more effectively than the private or public sectors. They can act as trusted intermediaries, offering advice and support on energy efficiency; organise collective bulk-buying and retrofit schemes; coordinate peer-to-peer trading of electricity; and provide local aggregation platforms for flexibility; start up 11 community EV car clubs and e-bike rental schemes; and help to democratise the energy system. These are all essential areas to tackle as we transition to a low-carbon and decentralised energy model.’

CES Next Steps, page 10

We also need structural, legislative and regulatory support for communities to be the key players we perceive them to be in the journey to Net Zero. Both the Westminster Government and the Scottish Government have set ambitious Net Zero targets. To reach them, we need a much higher level of public awareness and much greater public action which would be underpinned by individual behaviour change. The Next Steps report outlines five main areas where progress could be made, from Local Energy Innovation Zones, to Energy Demand Reduction, Local Supply, Flexibility, Transport and Strengthening Communities. We need all five if we are going to reach Net Zero, bring people along with us on that journey, and create thriving local communities where foodbanks and fuel poverty are a thing of the past.

Janet Foggie, CEO @CES

At Community Energy Scotland we value our team’s and communities’ opinions. Blogs are a chance for us, our members and guests to share personal opinions and expertise, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Community Energy Scotland as an organisation. Please note opinions may change and Community Energy Scotland does not offer any endorsements.

Heat Smart Orkney: an award winning community project

In 2016, the Heat Smart Orkney (HSO) project received £1.28 million from the Scottish Government’s Local Energy Challenge Fund, providing the Rousay, Egilsay & Wyre Development Trust (REWDT) in Orkney, and its support partner, Community Energy Scotland, with the opportunity to develop the project to mitigate effects of the curtailment of wind energy generation being experienced by the RE&W Community Turbine located on Rousay.

The turbine provides revenue to the Development Trust which supports its residents through community projects and initiatives.

Megaflo hot water cylinder installed

Secondary heating devices such as Megaflo hot water cylinders and Dimplex Quantum storage heaters were installed into homes based within “Zone 1“ of the Orkney electricity grid (see image below). The grid controls the local generators and at times of marginal curtailment of the REW generator, these devices were switched on using smart controls. This enabled local demand-side management to charge the devices and help keep the turbine producing. When the turbine received a signal to either stop or resume working as normal the smart controls switched the household devices off.

The aim of the project was to:

  • address the issue of fuel poverty by improving systems and supplementing the cost of the heating provided through the new devices by rebating householders for the energy used;
  • prove a commercially-scalable model for this supplemental smart heating and curtailment abatement (HSO Ltd) live on the local grid, whilst respecting the existing commercial arrangements of the Orkney Active Network Management (ANM) system, and not affect other essential grid activities such as the existing national demand-side management for off-peak heating;
  • respect the technically sensitive nature of the Orkney electricity grid, and to focus on aggregation technology deployed in a prudent, passive but responsive and smart manner to effectively decouple demand-side management actions from critical network management;
  • be developed, run, and led by and in collaboration with other grassroots, socially responsible organisations to retain and socialise value, share knowledge with our partners to develop practical ways to help address fuel poverty, and overall develop the wellbeing, resilience, and self-sufficiency of our communities, in addition to tackling carbon reduction.

HSO Ltd installed a total of 112 devices over the 7-island group covered in Zone 1.

Map of Orkney & Number of Households Participating in the HSO Project (yellow areas)

  • Rousay 40
  • Egilsay 2
  • Wyre 1
  • Mainland 14
  • Eday 3
  • Westray 9
  • Papa Westray 3

It had its challenges!

HSO Ltd had to adapt its service and care to meet these challenges:

  • Logistics – installing equipment over the 7 islands, organising equipment and resources; dealing with ferry timetables, refits, bad weather and tourist demands etc;  pressure when trying to meet timing deadlines set by the milestones of the Local Energy Scotland award;
  • Poor internet connections – HSO systems are dependent on the ability to use the homeowner’s broadband to provide the internet connection needed to operate the smart switching of the devices on and off.  With the poor connectivity experienced by homeowners in Orkney and the fragile state our internet system, HSO Ltd had to seek alternative options for the project.  Our contractors used internet boosters and TP Links to improve the situation and for many this proved useful. Others required alternative 4G links;
  • Staff resources – HSO Ltd  is staffed by a part time workforce. This at times caused limitations on meeting the specific deadlines with regard to its contractors.  Due to our geographical location, we have a limited pool of specialised staff and HSO Ltd is not always in the position to replace or hire in additional help to meet specific needs;
  • Types of properties available within the Orkney housing stock;
  • Ageing heating systems;
  • Ageing household electrical systems
  • Lack of curtailment – 2019 saw HSO Ltd begin to prove its business model with most households connected to the aggregator system.  However, during this time many of the wind turbines in Orkney underwent long term maintenance thus reducing the amount of curtailment experienced by the Rousay Community turbine. This lack of available curtailment has continued for considerable time in key periods since, due mostly to wider grid/cable failures. HSO Ltd has therefore seen the level of rebates and the amount of heating going through its devices diminished, resulting in increased negative reactions from some in the community. These unfortunate events also undermine the ability to clearly establish the future business and revenue cases needed to work towards HSO Ltd.’s plans to encourage investment by others to join the scheme after the demonstration phase.

And significant successes!

  • HSO Ltd has proven that smart switching used by the project has not had a detrimental effect on the ANM and has not interfered with the commercial demand-side management already available;
  • The HSO Project has shown aggregated smart demand side management flexibility in the ‘real world’ and has been the forerunner, and both catalyst and instigator for further larger projects like the SMILE project and ReFLEX initiative and the development of the TraDER locally and fed into and shaped this area nationally to create the sector as it develops in the next 2-5 years;
  • HSO Ltd is self-funded, has provided employment and opportunity within our community for a sustained period and the HSO system and the HSO Ltd staff have provided a service, gained significant learning, and transferrable skills directly to improve activity in the subsequent SMILE and ReFLEX projects, providing the company with the income to continue trading well beyond the initial funding period;
  • Scottish Green Energy Award 2020 – Last year HSO Ltd was awarded the SGEA for “Best Community Project”!

Over 70 properties benefited from this project. Energy fuels across project properties saw a total drop, due to displacement or efficiency measures, of 4,700 litres of oil; 8,000kg of coal and wood; and 20.4MWh of electricity. However, the benefits went beyond being able to reduce fuel costs and increase generation, including: energy advice; increased sense of ownership of local energy; increased revenue for community projects; employment for 3 isle residents.

A key aim of HSO was to reduce fuel poverty. A rebate compensated homeowners for the additional power used in their home at a higher cost than the alternative provision of heat (oil, coal, etc). Due to its success, the rebate rate was doubled to promote further incentive.

We are proud to be a partner with HSO Ltd and absolutely delighted that the staff and volunteers have been formally recognised for their hard work, passion and dedication to this project.

Peter Long, Project Manager, Community Energy Scotland

Blog written with information provided by Gill Wigley, Project Manager @Heat Smart Orkney Limited

At Community Energy Scotland we value our team’s and communities’ opinions. Blogs are a chance for us, our members and guests to share personal opinions and expertise, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Community Energy Scotland as an organisation. Please note opinions may change and Community Energy Scotland does not offer any endorsements.

Looking long term: a vision of a thriving community energy sector

A reinvented community energy sector could play a key role in making the net zero transition a socially just one; but it will need support from policy.

Looking long term

Today, the dominant activity in UK community energy – at least in terms of what brings in money – is renewable electricity generation, at small and medium scales. But getting new projects of this sort up and running has been much harder since the closure of the Feed-in Tariff scheme two years ago.

Now obviously, community energy groups are NOT just in it for the money, and they’re not strangers to working for free! Nevertheless, spending power is, well, power. You can use it to pay staff, supporting the local economy and ensuring your organisation survives; to support other local groups; or build affordable housing. So the question arises – where will it come from in the future?  And not just next month, or next year, but in the longer term?

Here is where the current talk in energy policy circles, of the future energy system being decentralised, decarbonised, and ‘consumer’ centred, seems to offer bright prospects to community energy. So, amid the end-of-FITs gloom, we brought practitioners, policymakers and other stakeholders together to scope out a hopeful long term vision. We asked them to picture a future where community energy is thriving. What do you see community energy groups doing? How are they organised? And crucially: who needs to do what to make it happen?

Expanded and diversified

The key message is that community energy could become much more than electricity generation, but could spread into all parts of the energy system. Yes they would still generate electricity – but they would sell it to local customers as well as national wholesalers, and they would trade flexible demand on behalf of local residents. They would using pricing power and technical know-how to address fuel poverty and the digital divide. Some would run ‘mixed mobility’ services – buses, car clubs and more; or heat networks in off-gas-grid areas and new-build developments. Some organisations might focus on one or two complementary activities – others might embrace many, as illustrated in our graphic. But through this technological change, the focus is always on social and environmental outcomes.

Achieving this would require change in the shape and scale of community energy – as shown in the graphic. The boundaries of the sector might become ‘fuzzy’, with partnerships with other community groups, housing bodies and local authorities more common.

We also saw potential for more partnerships with other community energy groups across multiple localities, in a member-controlled Confederation. This would be a ‘coop of coops’ style organisation, a bit like Energy4All or the emerging Big Solar Coop, but on an even larger scale. Its purpose would be to help resolve the perennial tension between achieving economies of scale, and preserving local groups’ roots in their communities. This would require a shift in thinking for the sector, perhaps. But, with E4A and others (also e.g. Communities for Renewables) paving the way, more evolution than revolution.

Making it happen

If this vision sounds good, the big question is: how to make it happen? Community energy activists have plenty of experience of learning new technologies and adapting to change. This, and their skills in partnership working, will be called on increasingly in the future. But there will need to be policy changes too. The list is long, but includes central government regulating to give smaller players a better chance of surviving the energy market; and governments from devolved to regional to local levels purchasing from and investing in community energy.

Yet policymakers may see the sector as inevitably small, whose role in the energy transition is more about cultural change than operational delivery. Of course, community energy has long argued that it is about ‘more than megawatts’. But our vision shows the sector with a significant operational role. How to convince the policymakers that this is desirable – and feasible?

Firstly, ideas matter; and the concept of ‘Just Transition’ could be important. Scotland launched its own Just Transition Commission last year. Wales has had a Wellbeing of Future Generations Act for some time. Some might argue that a techno-transition could be managed top-down. But surely an inclusive and just energy transition needs, not just grassroots participation, but grassroots power and ownership?

Secondly, dare we say it, policymakers could be directed to look to Europe. Several countries have large, operationally-focussed community and cooperative energy sectors. Why can’t the UK?

Finally, evidence of the benefits of community energy is important. I’m looking forward to reading the latest research on this from CAG Consultants, launched in Community Energy Fortnight – and hope this can play a part in setting us on the road to a thriving future for community energy.

This blog summarises a newly published academic paper in the journal Energy Research and Social Science. Please contact Dr Tim Braunholtz-Speight for a copy or available to download at

Dr Tim Braunholtz-Speight, Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, University of Manchester – Guest blog

At Community Energy Scotland we value our team’s and communities’ opinions. Blogs are a chance for us, our members and guests to share personal opinions and expertise, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Community Energy Scotland as an organisation. Please note opinions may change and Community Energy Scotland does not offer any endorsements.

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