The Devon Community Energy Network hosted their annual Spring Gathering in March 2023 at Dartington Hall in Devon. This year, Regen’s George Middlemiss and Prina Sumaria helped the Devonbased network to organise and run the day  – here are their key takeaways from an inspiring day of planning for the future of community energy in Devon and further afield. 

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The Community Energy Spring Gathering is an annual gathering of community energy organisations, practitioners and enthusiasts from Devon and beyond. The Open Space event provides a key opportunity for the network to pause, check in on their struggles and successes, regroup and look for new areas to collaborate. The event this year was characterized by new perspectives, new practitioners and lots of shared insights!

New perspectives 

This year, we were lucky to be joined by some organisations from further afield. They brought a fresh perspective to some of the discussions. This included Big Solar Coop, Bristol Energy Coop, Bristol Energy Network, Younity and Low Carbon Hub. We, along with regular attendees, appreciated the knowledge sharing that this enabled. Big Solar Coop shared invaluable insights into rooftop solar and running a national organisation. Younity shared details of their funding and Power Purchase Agreement options for community organisations. With the launch of Energy Local Totnes taking place the day before, we were also joined by Energy Local Director, Mary Gillie, who shared her many insights on Local Supply. A big thanks to all those who travelled that little bit further to be there. 

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New practitioners 

In addition to being joined by existing practitioners from further afield, we were also joined by some who were totally new to the sector, and brimming with enthusiasm. 

In the quarterly meetings of the Devon Community Energy Network over the past few months there had been discussion on how best to integrate newer practitioners into the network. This is an issue that other community energy organisations and networks face, as the gap widens between experienced practitioners with many years of delivering projects and those who are just taking their very first steps in local energy action. 

At this year’s Spring Gathering, it was brilliant to be joined by local people from climate action groups and local councils who were keen to start taking action on local energy issues, but not sure where to start. We had the opportunity to run a dedicated session for

 newcomers to help them understand some of the more technical discussions happening during the day – and they got the opportunity to ask all  their burning questions to some very experienced practitioners. One of the newer people said that this event provided “the perfect platform to meet the right people in community energy”. 

These new practitioners learnt a vast amount about community energy in a short space of time, taking in some of the more technical jargon and discovering new opportunities and challenges of the sector. But more importantly, they left feeling inspired and with a clearer direction for the next steps they should take.  

[We] came away from the day with a different emphasis on [our project], and that was based on the experience of those that we spoke with – steering us and supporting us. We are so glad, and relieved, that we don’t have to ‘reinvent the wheel’, as there are already established, well respected groups that we can call on to help our group. This is very exciting for us”. 

Sharing knowledge 

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A key element of the gathering is for community energy practitioners to collaborate. Whether this is finding opportunities for new projects, or simply sharing details of a funding stream that worked well. A few of the shared insights this year included: 

  • There were discussions about opportunities to use the Future Energy Landscapes approach – a community consultation method developed by the Centre of Sustainable Energy that helps local energy practitioners gain public support and input for more successful local renewable energy plans and policies.  
  • People shared their experience of using We the Power – a film about community energy made by the adventure clothing brand Patagonia – to inspire new people to join the cause. This film features community energy organisations from across Europe, highlighting their struggles and successes.  
  • One participant highlighted the great work of Lendology – a social enterprise that provides loans for domestic energy efficiency and renewable energy. Lendology works in partnership with local councils to provide financing schemes for homeowners to spread the cost of improving the energy efficiency of their home or investing in renewable energy measures such as solar PV.
  • We heard from Power Allotments, Devon – a Devon-wide community energy site finding project that supported people to find potential sites for a community owned solar farm or wind turbine in their local area. This year-long project recently came to a close and was supported by many attendees of the Spring Gathering who helped spread the message in their networks and resulted in over 73 submissions! The team are working to find viable ways of bringing some of these projects to development. 

As I’m sure others in the community sector will agree, events like this are an important institution in the community energy calendar. Everyone is so busy delivering their excellent projects, they don’t often get the opportunity to pause, check in with others who share the struggle, take a step back and remember why we do the work we do! 

Thank you again to everyone who came and we’ll see you next year!

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