Community energy guide
Set up a renewable energy scheme, and your community could earn money as well as help tackle climate change. Here's a simple guide to help get you started with a local energy project in Wales.
Step 1: Identify your resource
Identifying which renewable energy resources in your area can be usefully harnessed requires specialist knowledge. If you don't have this available, it's a good idea to get help at this early stage. The right advisor could also guide you though finding funding and choosing an installation provider.
The following are some not-for-profit organisations that could help you:
- Gwent Energy Community Interest Co, Gwent (solar PV & wind)
- Green Valleys Project, Crickhowell, Powys (hydro)
- Awel Aman Tawe, Cwmllynfell, Neath Port Talbot(wind)
Wind is the most popular project for community groups, giving excellent returns well into the future. Check your area on the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) wind speed database to see whether there are sufficient wind speeds (at least 6.5m/sec).
Wind is one of the most cost-effective and technically developed forms of energy available. See Friends of the Earth Cymru's Wind Power: 20 Myths Blown Away.
Water is a great source of renewable energy, generally constant and with more generation in winter when energy demands are higher. Hydro installations are easy to maintain and can last generations.
Panels can be photovoltaic (PV), which convert solar energy into electricity, or solar thermal (ST), which convert solar energy into heat for hot water and heating. Schemes could involve shared buildings such as community centres or groups of houses.
The Forestry Commission's (FC) Wood Energy Business Scheme provides grants to Welsh community groups for installing wood-fuelled heating systems. The FC's Biomass Energy Centre has lots of biomass resources and information, and a useful page of biomass resources in Wales.
Step 2: Form your group
It's usually best to work with a pre-existing group such as your town council, Friends of the Earth local group or residents' association.
Energy Share has a search engine for finding local groups and a range of resources.
You will need to incorporate your group or create a social enterprise - Co-operatives UK can advise how.
Step 3: Feasibility and planning
The feasibility and planning stage includes a number of necessary studies, such as environmental impact, visual impact, noise testing and wind/hydro/solar strength testing. This is quite involved and there is a range of support available for undertaking feasibility studies and developing business plans.
In the past, groups were faced with the gamble of paying for studies, with no chance of recovering the cost if the project was not feasible. But now grants are available through the Energy Saving Trust of up to £30,000 for feasibility and planning. For a project to attract funding, it needs to be of a community scale, with the potential to earn at least £30,000 a year.
Step 4: Financing
Financing for the project can come from a range of sources, and may include grant funding. The Energy Saving Trust offers capital grants of up to £300,000 towards installation.
Another possible approach is through community shares, where large amounts of capital can be raised through small sums from many individuals.
Step 5: Build / install
Once you've raised the capital you'll need to instruct a company to build the project. The company will then project manage the building or installation on behalf of the group.
© Kat Nicholson