One of the strongest themes that has run through the event series held by Western Power Distribution (WPD) and Regen is collaboration. Without it, projects would find it hard to get off the ground.
Last month, WPD and Regen held another interesting community energy event in Nottingham that looked at the opportunities for communities to get involved and progress with the latest innovations and projects in our transitioning energy system. As always, the event was stimulating and provided a great deal of insight into the current projects from different community energy groups.
As well as being a prime example of the drive and enthusiasm of the community energy sector to engage with our future energy system, the event also provided a fantastic opportunity to network with other local energy stakeholders and learn new collaboration techniques to help galvanise ideas and progress projects. By understanding the objectives of other local stakeholders, whether energy related or not, and incorporating them with deliverables, a project can be maintained and strengthened.
During the event, Anthony Walters from Southern Staffordshire Community Energy, spoke about the social benefits that community energy projects can bring to the local area and the beneficiaries of these effects. His presentation, ‘how community energy can invest in a healthy future’ looked at the ways volunteer-led groups helped alleviate hospital care problems in their local area and by doing so, highlighted the benefits of community energy to those who hadn’t previously acknowledged it. Anthony emphasised the importance of collaboration with local people and stakeholders such as NHS trusts, not only to help achieve goals, but also engage with those who would not necessarily consider community energy as a potential solution. Southern Staffordshire Community Energy said that through the project, they were able to reduce the number of readmissions to the Royal Stoke University Hospital by 13.5%, saving them £400,000, and provided enough solar power for 10,645 MRI scans a year.
It is important to engage and collaborate with other local energy stakeholders as well as those in the community energy. Anthony made it look easy, but, this can sometimes be a real challenge. There is no simple solution to get others engaged in something they initially think is not interesting, but by connecting with them on a level they understand is a key doorway to help reach that collaboration. Whether it’s NHS trusts trying to reduce numbers of unplanned admissions, or university’s trying to fund new library stores, there are ways to incorporate their aims and build a solution together in a collaborative way. It’s about thinking outside the box and listening to people.
There are lots of opportunities to engage in conversations that expand our understanding and ideas. Events such as the one in Nottingham provide an ideal platform to begin these discussions and learn from one another. Who knows, it could be the beginning of a new community energy project.