Community energy a ‘vital influencer’ for a new energy industry with distributed generation and EVs

The broad energy industry must support the community energy sector if it wants to get public buy-in to dramatic changes in the energy landscape, says Emma Bridges, chief executive of Community Energy England.

Talking to New Power Report ahead of Community Energy Fortnight, she said community energy was able to tap into public opinion. “Community energy is a vital influencer. There are a lot of pilots out there at big scales, but you can’t test the effectiveness unless you test them at a community level”.

For example, on electric vehicles, she says companies have to look at their assumptions about charging flexibility. “Everywhere I have been, where it is not energy experts talking about these things, people have been horrified at the idea that someone can decide whether or not they can charge their vehicle. They say ‘what if I need to go to hospital in the middle of the night’?”

She says, “The community energy sector will be really important to feed back those concerns and make sure that people are educated on how it works. Having access to [EVs]  through community energy schemes first of all is a really good way to show them how it works and help that behaviour change. There’s a lot to be done about making it a social norm so people are able to accept it.”

Bridges said it had been a “very hard two or three years for the sector,” citing the loss of feed-in tariffs as the most important factor. But the sector has been hit by other issues too: Bridges says a decision by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has “huge implications for us if we want to start doing supply in future.” The FCA says community energy organisations cannot be registered as cooperatives. Because they benefit the wider community (instead of strictly co-operative members) they have to use another structure such as a community interest company. “If you are looking at direct supply, or ways of doing that, it makes it a lot more difficult,” says Bridges.


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