Community Renewable Energy


During 2011 and 2012 I’ll be visiting community renewable energy projects around the UK and Ireland. The aim is to gather information and present it in ways that inspire, inform and help others to initiate renewable energy projects – the three i’s.

I’ll be filming the projects and interviews with key activists to give a flavour of the human story as well as the technical and planning obstacles that had to be overcome. There will also be links to project websites and all the suppliers, installers and enablers that can make the difference between a successful outcome and just another might have been.

Some of the expenses for this project will be covered by a Wingate Scholarship.

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Sheffield Renewables

Most of the stories on this blog deal with happy outcomes but there are valuable lessons from ideas that don’t come to fruition. Sheffield Renewables had plans to use the water power that once drove the cities industrial revolution to generate electricity but, so far at least, they’ve been thwarted by demanding new fish pass requirements. Continue reading

A tale of two turbines….

….well, three turbines and a solar PV array actually but why spoil the alliteration!

If you can’t stand the suspense and want to skip straight to a short film about the Tresoc planning decision click here.

8.00am 12th January 2013 – Today we’ll know if South Hams District Council (SHDC) approve or reject a planning application by the Totnes Renewable Energy Society (Tresoc) for two wind turbines just outside Totnes in Devon. The planned turbines, with a combined capacity of 4.6 megawatts, will generate enough clean electricity for around 2,500 homes. Up to 49% of the development will be owned by Tresoc community share and bond holders. This means that a big chunk of the income stays local. Unfortunately the road so far has been very rough with well organised opposition from the usual motley collection of climate change deniers and pedlars of misinformation but also a substantial number of local residents with real concerns. The recommendation from the planning officer, largely based on objections from English Heritage, is against. The planet may fry but at least we won’t spoil the view!

Meanwhile, just a few miles up the road on the edge of the Dartmoor National Park, Sustainable South Brent are busy raising investment for their 225kW turbine through a community share issue. This turbine was approved without a single objection, the share issue has already raised £232,000, almost entirely from people in the village, and work should start sometime this year. This project has been firmly rooted in the community since it began and, unlike Tresoc who are in partnership with Infinergy, has no commercial partner. Volunteers at Sustainable South Brent have put in a tremendous amount of work to make the project a success but their path has been comparatively smooth.

Also nearby, on agricultural land between Totnes and South Brent, a private developer is applying for permission to erect a 40 acre 5 megawatt solar array. This was approved almost without discussion by the local Dartington Parish Council who had previously objected to the Tresoc turbines, which are in a different parish and not visible from anywhere in Dartington. There is also very little opposition from local people. The solar array will be entirely in private ownership and little, if any, of the income will benefit the local community. The financial costs of this development and the embedded energy in the solar panels are far higher than for wind turbines but there are still big profits to be made. And why bother to place solar PV on the roofs of schools, barns, factories, public buildings and all those other wasted spaces above our heads when agricultural land is so cheap and who needs food anyway?

5.00pm same day. Well, the decision is in and councillors followed the recommendation of the planning officers and turned down the application by around 15 votes to 3 with 5 abstentions. Most of the concerns expressed by the anti-wind campaigners were rejected and it all came down to the views of English Heritage on the impact of the turbines on views of and from the local church and some concerns about bats. This latter objection was unclear since it was based on guidance from Natural England who had not objected to the turbines.

You can see a film about the day here 

Brixton Energy

Brixton Energy has been on my list of places to visit for a while but Rob Hopkins beat me to it and just posted this piece on ‘Transition Culture‘. So, in case you don’t already subscribe to that excellent site, here it is in full…


A visit to Brixton Energy: “We’re not wedded to solar panels … we’re wedded to wellbeing”

Last Friday I visited Brixton in south London to visit Brixton Energy.  Brixton Energy had just closed its second share launch, Brixton Energy Solar 2, which had raised £70,000.  Its first project, Brixton Energy Solar 1, was the UK’s first inner-city community-owned solar power station, a 37kW solar array on the roof of Elmore House on the Loughborough Estate.  The second was a 45kW system spread over the roofs of the 4 housing blocks of Styles Gardens.  I joined Agamemnon Otero of Brixton Energy on the roof of a neighbouring tower block on a crisp and clear winter day, with a clear view over the solar systems that Brixton Energy had already installed (see picture above), to ask him more about the project. Continue reading

Anaerobic Digesters for all?

Producing gas for heating, cooking and even electricity generation from kitchen, garden and animal waste sounds great but can this form of renewable energy, called anaerobic digestion (AD), work at the community level? Local United produced a really useful Guide to Anaerobic Digestion, which suggests it can and recent discussions I’ve had with Totnes Renewable Energy Society (Tresoc) and John Dean from Langage Farm, confirm this view. Last week I visited a project using a small scale digester near Bridport in Dorset, to see if this technology might be suitable for the Transition Homes development in Totnes. It looks really interesting…but there are problems. Continue reading

People Power in Bristol

Bristol Energy Co-operative (BEC) have a of of energy. I don’t mean solar, wind, hydro or some other form of renewable energy generation. After all, this relatively new co-operative have just three, fairly modest, solar PV installations installed after their first full year of activity. The energy I’m talking about comes from the people involved, the members and shareholders, many  of whom came along to the October AGM and shared their experience, expertise and creativity (not to mention food!) to help the co-operative develop a plan for the future. Shareholders become assets rather than just investors who have to be paid. Continue reading

Wadebridge – Britain’s First Solar Town?

Wadebridge Renewable Energy Network (WREN) has been active for little more than a year but has already made impressive strides towards reducing the dependence of this Cornish town of 10,000 people on fossil fuels.

“We set ourselves a target of generating 30% of our electricity from renewable sources by 2015,” said Jerry Clark, WREN’s Technical Director, “but the area has already achieved that through a combination of domestic, commercial and large scale solar PV and repowering the local wind farm to increase output from 5 MW up to 12 MW.” Continue reading

Community Energy in the News.


A coalition of organisations including the Co-operative, the National Trust, the Church of England and the Women’s Institute are calling for measures to boost community renewable power and energy efficiency schemes. The groups claim that four power stations’ worth of locally-owned renewable schemes could be installed by 2020 if the Government supports community energy. For more details see The Independent.
An important new study by Gill Seyfang, Jung Jin Park and Adrian Smith from the University of East Anglia;  ‘Community Energy in the UK’, is the first independent UK-wide survey of community energy projects. You can download the report here.

Big Green Footsteps on Eigg

Exactly a year ago I posted a link to Malcolm Baldwin’s wonderful short film about community renewable energy systems on Eigg, a small island on the West coast of Scotland. In September I was fortunate enough to visit Eigg to see for myself what this small community have achieved. You can see my embarrassingly inferior but thankfully very short film here.

Since the people of Eigg wrested control of their island from the former owner in 1997 they have moved from dependency on diesel generators to produce 100% of their electricity from renewable sources. Wind, water and solar power meet the needs of the island’s 100 people. Homes are limited to 5kW and businesses to 10kW but insulation, AAA electrical appliances and OWL meters to monitor usage make it easy to stay within these limits.

Not content with these achievements the community have ambitious 10 year targets to reduce their carbon footprint and become a more resilient and sustainable community. They aim to:

* Reduce reliance on fossil fuels to a minimum by using alternative fuels and reducing demand.

* Make homes and businesses more energy efficient.

* Use low or zero emission transport on Eigg and the mainland

* Produce most of their food on the island and source the rest seasonally from nearby and with less packaging.

* Reduce waste and the need to use a mainland landfill site to the minimum.

The story of the community buy-out is told in Alastair McIntosh’s book Soil and Soul: People Versus Corporate Power, published in 2001. At the time of the buy-out the population was around 60. When I visited in 2012 I met a young man who proudly claimed to be the 100th resident. Eigg is becoming a thriving community with many young people returning to the island or moving there to make it their home and set up in business.

Among the new residents are Norah and Bob who moved to the island in 2004 to set up a sustainability education centre. I stumbled on the Earth Connections Sustainability Centre, which began running courses in 2012, after getting lost on my way down from climbing An Sgurr and coming on their retrofitted building hidden in a dense wood and surrounded by orchards and a forest garden. So this mention is the result of my poor navigational skills.

Eigg has an excellent website with lots that will tempt you to make the long journey – you can go to Mallaig by train on the Harry Potter line (the Glenfinnan Viaduct and Jacobite Steam train feature in the films) and then take the ferry, so no need to drive or fly.

I’ll leave the last word to the island:

“The world is made up of small communities and any community can be a green island…If we each look after our own island we will all take care of the world” Quoted from ‘Big Green Footsteps – Island Going Green’.


Micro-hydro in Burma

In February I posted a short blog – What a difference a Watt makes – about the value of electricity from very small solar PV panels in villages without mains electricity in rural Bangladesh. After visiting Bangladesh with Oxfam I travelled on to Burma. While visiting the town of Hsipaw in Shan State in the North East of the country I came across many tiny water powered electricity generators. You can see a short film here. As in Bangladesh, these provide a small but valuable source of electricity to rural homes without access to a mains supply.

Nearby was a scene of devastation where a swathe of land had been cleared for the laying of a pipeline taking oil to China. The military government in Burma is raking in $Billions from supplying oil and natural gas to China which has funded and built the pipeline. Meanwhile many farmers whose land has been destroyed by the earthworks have not received any compensation.