SRI External Seminar

Professor Carly McLachlan, University of Manchester

Community energy futures: challenges and opportunities for the UK sector

Abstract:  UK Government support for community energy was once clearly evident, with a sector specific UK strategy, a Feed In Tariff Scheme (FITS) that supported significant growth in deployment rates and various grant funding schemes. Under these conditions, the sector grew rapidly. However, the community energy strategy has apparently been abandoned, and  the ‘bonfire of the policies’ in 2015-16 (Renewable Energy Association 2016), saw a steep drop in FIT rates, removal of investment incentives, and closure of grant schemes. Growth in the sector has stalled.

The longer term outlook may be more hopeful. Anticipated levels of decarbonisation, decentralisation, digitalisation and democratisation - suggest the future may bring opportunities for community energy. Yet on the other, with some decentralised visions and narratives focusing on public, commercial, individual and household actors only, it is not a forgone conclusion that decentralised systems engage ‘communities’ more. Community energy also offers a vision of energy democratisation that runs much deeper than ‘end-user choice’.

Professor Carly McLachlan will present insights from a series of workshops across the UK with community energy actors as part of the UK Energy Research Centre project on community energy finance. Using National Grid’s ‘Community Renewables’ scenario to frame the potential scale of decarbonisation and decentralisation, stakeholders explored the opportunities and challenges in establishing particular ‘thriving’ community energy business models in the long term. Stakeholders also identified various near and medium term actions necessary to realise these models across domains such as finance, policy, technology and regulation. Whilst much work in the sector is understandably focused on immediate survival strategies, stakeholders expressed enthusiasm for taking the opportunity to look at the longer term potential of the sector. Key themes and issues that will be discussed include: maintaining community ethos during a process of ‘up-scaling’; being responsive enough to not be locked out by private firms; the importance of partnerships with local authorities; the differing attractiveness of opportunities in rural versus urban areas and between the devolved administrations; and developing better evidence to demonstrate co-benefits.

Bio: Carly McLachlan is Professor of Climate and Energy Policy at the University of Manchester and is the Interim Director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia. Her research focuses on how people and organisations engage with energy and sustainability issues. In addition to her work specifically on community energy, as part of the wider Tyndall Manchester team, she is working closely with Greater Manchester Combined Authority in setting their carbon targets and identifying pathways, policies and actions to significantly reduce emissions across the region. 

Joint SRI/ Priestley seminar