Last week we hosted National Grid’s Community Energy Forum in Exeter – the first in-person event in a series that we’re delivering as part of NGED’s programme of community energy support. Here we summarise the main insights from the event. 

In response to requests from organisations and the calling of a general election, at last Friday’s event at the Exeter Phoenix we focused on topics including partnering with local authorities and businesses, progressing retrofit and heat decarbonisation, community engagement and policy changes.

Building partnerships 

The first presentation of the day came from Marianne Brown, communications and community engagement manager at Bristol Energy Cooperative (BEC). As the most recent winners of Regen’s Green Energy Award for a Community Initiative, Marianne gave a rundown of some of the key partnerships that have been the foundation of the success of BEC’s giant solar arrays on the roof of the Bristol Beacon and Bottle Yard 2.  

This included detailing the relationships built with building contractors, the building owners (in the Bristol Beacon’s case, Bristol City Council) and legal advisers. The Bristol Beacon’s solar array has become a key touchstone for developers and local authorities alike as a demonstration of the social value that can be achieved in the process of revitalising one of the city’s iconic venues. Through the Centre for Sustainable Energy’s ‘Future Energy Landscapes’ work, BEC also focuses on building partnerships with local residents and local climate groups to tackle how they might want to incorporate renewables into their local area. 

This presentation was followed by two engaging breakout sessions on the same topic, which saw a range of discussion from how to deal with external commercial organisations that might not be as open to collaborating, to the need for greater coherence and collaboration between the Distribution Network Operator’s plans, the local authority strategies for energy and the community energy input into this.  

Progressing retrofit and decarbonisation  

The day’s second presentation saw Kate Royston of Tamar Energy Community, with support from Tara Bower of Exeter Community Energy, run through the good work that the Devon Community Energy Network (DCEN) has been doing over the last 13 years, and some of the keys to its success as a network. Kate then covered the extensive retrofit work done by community energy organisations in the South West and touched upon a few of the current challenges around PAS2035 and Trustmark. 

The following breakout session on this topic saw a detailed conversation on the debate around ‘Fabric First’ versus ‘Fabric Fifth’ and also around the different complexities of heat pump installation, with Dan Kelly of Dartmoor Energy contributing extensive knowledge from their work with community energy organisations on retrofit.  

There was also conversation around the barriers in the current design of government retrofit schemes, and how the fragmented, constantly changing nature of the funding is holding many organisations back from building on the good work already being done. It was noted that many of these schemes are made deliberately complex to deter organisations exploiting them, but that in reality this is hurting local organisations that could contribute greatly. 

Engaging effectively with your community 

Rebecca Windemer, our planning and communities lead, ran two workshops on different approaches to engaging effectively with your community. The workshop consisted of a rundown of the different methods you might use to engage with people, and some of the ways you might integrate some of the harder-to-reach groups within your area. In each session, a different scenario was tackled in which attendees were tasked with figuring out how they would best engage the relevant community on the proposed developments in the scenario. Both sessions saw great discussion and sharing of a really diverse range of experiences of community engagement and its challenges.  

A general election and a call for evidence: what policies should we be pushing for? 

Prina Sumaria led a wide-ranging discussion around what sort of policies and changes the community sector should be pushing for in light of the oncoming election and the ‘Barriers to Community Energy’ call for evidence. Some of the top lines from the group included: 

  • The need for long-term (5-10 year cycles), coherent funding. The current piecemeal way this work is funded means reporting to different funders is burdensome and complex, there is a lack of security for the staff employed and it takes valuable time to have to repeatedly apply for different grants.
  •  Any energy efficiency advice or retrofit assessment work needs to be accompanied by grants for lower-income households or low-interest loans to enable measures to be fitted. 
  •  The supply chain and workforce for retrofitting is not where it needs to be. Incorporating more apprenticeships, courses and working with the Department for Education on developing these skills is essential. 

We’ll dig back into some of these topics at our next community energy forum in Leicester, on 28 June. Read more about that event and register here. To keep up to date with our future community energy events, please sign up for the mailing list here. Our response to the government’s call for evidence on the Barriers to Community Energy will be released this week! Keep your eyes on our news page to catch it when it comes out.  

Stay informed

Sign up to the Regen newsletter to receive a monthly digest of our work to revolutionise the UK energy system, and industry insights.

We take care of your personal data. We will only contact you according to your preferences and will NEVER share or sell your details. See our privacy policy for more information