Research uncovers the North West’s emerging Community Energy Landscape

The region’s power network operator launches benchmark state-of-the-region report into community energy across the region

Electricity North West, the region’s power network operator, has revealed the findings of its inaugural survey of community energy organisations in the North West, setting a benchmark for the sector. It found that communities across the region raised a total investment of £665,000 in 2018 to support at least four community energy projects, with two new community electricity generation projects completed, generating a total of 58kW.

Following the launch of its Leading the North West to Zero Carbon Plan at the Greater Manchester Green Summit in March, the research reinforces the firm’s plea to people and businesses across the region to seek ways of generating their own energy.

Steve Cox, Engineering and Technical Director at Electricity North West, said: “As an organisation which plays a key role in the delivery of a future energy system, this research supports our recently launched ‘Leading the North West to Zero Carbon Plan’ and aims to set a benchmark for the sector moving forward while providing a clear indication as to where the North West sits in terms of community energy.

“Despite a number of incentives coming to an end, communities in the North West continue to show resilience and determination, having raised substantial investment to support pioneering community energy projects. While community energy is represented throughout the region, Cumbria was revealed to be the guiding light in community energy and will provide a best practice example, not only for the North West, but for the country as a whole.”

Over 10,000 people were found to have engaged with community energy organisations in the North West in the past 12 months, with 42 low carbon events delivered to over 1,000 participants. Average community energy membership was 196 members while organisations engaged 550 community members, providing advice and support towards improving their home or organisational energy efficiency.

According to the findings, communities generated 23.5GWh of energy in 2018, equivalent to energy demand of 7,800 UK homes and reducing carbon emissions by 6,600 tCO2e or 3,300 return flights to New York. Meanwhile, 22kW of heat generation capacity was also identified.

Looking ahead to 2019, 575kW of community electricity generation projects are planned and over 500kW of heat energy generation is scheduled for installation. Many groups noted that storage will form a key focus in 2019.

Electricity North West worked with Community Energy England and UK community energy consultancy, Scene Connect, to compile the research and report between January and March 2019. 23 groups of community energy organisations responded who together, have 9.2MW of community owned generation capacity (equivalent to 4% of all community energy capacity in the UK).

The aim of the survey was to better understand community energy activities throughout 2018, the benefits of energy projects, the motivations and challenges faced in 2018 and the future of the community energy sector.

Steve Cox concluded: “We believe that community energy represents an opportunity to engage customers in energy issues and can deliver a range of benefits such as energy efficiency, improved air quality and community benefit funds that can help transform the communities of the North West. Last year, we launched a Community and Local Energy strategy which set out a clear commitment to work with customers and stakeholders and support the development of the sector. This report marks the start of the next chapter of this strategy and journey to put community and local energy at the heart of our communities.”

A report outlining the results of a survey of community energy organisations across England, Wales and Northern Ireland will be published later this month by Community Energy England.

  • Throughout the North West, Cumbria has the greatest generation capacity
  • Over 200 physical energy efficiency improvements were completed in 2018
  • In 2018, communities in the NW had accessed £204K of funding to develop energy projects. This includes funding from the Rural Community Energy Fund (RCEF), ENWL and EU projects including RES Coop MESICE and Horizon 2020. This initial funding enabled communities to generate £665,500 in investment
  • Across 13 organisations with community benefit funds, £70,600 was distributed via grants, loans and donations with North West communities in 2018
  • Communities in North West reduced carbon emissions through wider energy efficiency, low carbon transport and education projects
  • Community energy groups are motivated by: Tackling climate change (52%) Income generation for community benefit (48%) Awareness raising (41%) Reducing energy bills (15%) Better quality of energy services (11%) Tackling fuel poverty (11%)
  • Removal of the Feed-in-Tariff cited by 30% of respondents as major barrier to their work
  • 22% reported a stalled project in 2018
  • 37% of community energy groups have energy projects planned in 2019
  • Electricity generation tops the list of projects planned in 2019