New funding needs to be established by the UK and Scottish governments to kick start a “community energy revolution” if climate change targets are to be met, a major new report has claimed.
But the report by WPI Economics and SP Energy Networks, which calls for both UK and Scottish governments to collaborate to support community groups who want to generate their own energy, comes as the two administrations are at loggerheads over the COP26 climate conference due to be held in Glasgow later this year.
The Future of Community Energy document maps out the scale of the benefits the sector could deliver if given the support needed to thrive, suggesting that over the next decade the number of community energy organisations could rise to around 4,000 across the UK – bringing a possible £1.8bn boost to local economies and creating over 8,000 jobs.
The schemes would also play a key role in meeting climate change targets by saving 2.5m tonnes of carbon emissions – more than created by all UK domestic flights – while community solar panels or wind turbines could power up to 2.2m homes across the UK, generating up to 5.3GW of renewable electricity, and cutting energy bills of households within the schemes by up to £150m a year.
According to the report, the government should establish a national community energy strategy with a community energy fund; create new, regional funding streams; give greater support and resource to groups who want to set up schemes; and use the knowledge of existing communities and local energy support organisations to ensure the acceleration of community energy.
Frank Mitchell, chief executive of SP Energy Networks said the report showed “just how much potential there is within our communities in our drive to a zero- carbon future, lowering emissions with the additional benefit of driving up skills and jobs across the UK.”
Last week MSPs on Holyrood’s economy and energy committee were told that more investment was needed if a broader range of people were to benefit from the decarbonisation of energy. A recent Climate Emergency Response Group report also said the Scottish Government needed to generate public and private investment of between £1.8bn and £3.6bn a year, to achieve its carbon emissions goals by 2045.
Community and local energy schemes are being encouraged as a way to increase renewable energy production, taking strain off the national grid, and creating new revenues for local areas. Today the Scottish Parliament also agreed to give rates relief to district heating schemes to encourage more be established.
Mr Mitchell said: “The report also shows what might be possible by highlighting the innovative efforts of communities – notably in Scotland and Wales– where sustained government support and a strong backing from third sector organisations has enabled local energy to lead the way, not only in a UK context but internationally as well.”
He added: “But we’ve only just scratched the surface. Communities across the UK increasingly want to generate their own, low carbon power. As the provider of the energy networks that make this possible, SP Energy Networks is committed to doing more. But we need government and regulators to allow us to do so.
“It is time for communities to be given a stronger voice in how their areas reach Net Zero. And as this report makes clear, we need new funding streams and reduced regulation in licensing planning to meet this vision”.
Today SP Energy Networks said it would launch an “educational toolkit” to provide communities with the information needed to get schemes off the ground and connect to the grid.