Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Community Energy - a review

This is a review of the book Community Energy: A guide to community - based renewable energy projects by Gordon Cowtan published by  Green Books

The book is an excellent introduction to Community Energy for lay people and students. It starts by covering some key issues around what is the raison d'etre for community energy projects - usually this involves some degree of energy generation or energy saving, sharing of benefits with the community and environmental sustainability. Then it looks at energy generating technologies; this section is quite comprehensive, even including anaerobic digestion though there are no real world of community AD as yet. The advice is strictly practical: what do you need, how much will it cost (considering operational and maintenance too), planning issues, subsidies available.

He gives cash flow for three case study financial models - surprisingly only one of them involve raising money through loan and shares while the first two are effectively self funded and are relatively straightforward. I fear that under the current regime for subsidy and limited tax relief those are the projects most likely to work. (Cowtan is pretty scathing about lack of Government support in general.) Of course all the design and financial parameters are constantly under change and if you are planning a project of your own you will have to get up to date figures.

Most of the real examples featured seem to be from small villages and and remote islands, for example a heat pump for Waternish Village Hall on a peninsular on the Isle of Skye or wind in the Outer Hebrides and in a small Nottinghamshire village. Is there are a reason for this? There are a few urban schemes mentioned such as West Oxford Community Renewables which has put solar PV panels on a lot of school roofs. Cambridge features too, in the energy saving section, for the Carbon Conversations programme developed by Cambridge Carbon Footprint.

Most of these examples are small and supply only a fraction of the energy used by the local community but Cowtan gives us something to aim for when he describes Feldheim, a small village (again!) in what used to be East Germany. They have built a wind farm, a solar farm and also plants using agricultural waste (biomass and pig manure); these feed into a community heating system for local homes and business. They even built their own local electricity grid, so they can use their own electricity rather than deal with the local supply company that bought from the national market.

You may or may not think the independence achieved by Feldheim is a good idea, but in any case this book is full of ideas and practical advice for communities that wish to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels.

Review by Mike Whyman and Nicola Terry

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