Event review: A brighter, cleaner, community owned energy future IS possible

The Panel. Photo: Simon Scarfe.

 By Anders Lorenzen

To anyone who regularly follows this blog it can come to no big surprise that I see great economic, social and environmental benefits in decentralised and community energy and the potential it holds. I have proactively followed and written about the first two community energy projects of Brixton Energy.

Tuesday 29th of January saw the launch of the HUB Eco Series, an event series hosted by HUB Islington in London, with the intention of creating positive debate around the key national and international environmental issues of our time. The Eco Series is a collaborative initiative between myself and green campaigner Kirstie Wielandt.

Tuesday’s launch event was devoted to the subject of community energy, and featured a distinguished speaker panel consisting of Agamemnon Otero, Founder of Repowering South London and Co-Director of Brixton Energy, Howard Johns, Founder of Ovesco and Southern Solar, Clare Hierons, CEO of Carbon Leapfrog and Nigel Farren, Founder of Energise Barnet.

The HUB Islington venue, on the fourth floor of an atmospheric converted Victorian warehouse behind Angel Islington tube station, was packed to the rafters with 70 guests from across the HUB’s London networks, local transition town groups, industry experts and environmental activists.

Agamemnon Otero of Repowering South London, masterfully opened the discussion with an overview of the success story of Repowering South London and Brixton Energy, two pioneering initiatives that have firmly placed community energy on the map of London. Agamemnon was keen to highlight that, apart from the obvious environmental benefits of saved carbon emissions, green energy co-ops have a massive social impact; Brixton Energy is installed on the rooftops on one of London’s most deprived council estates and has created a popular ‘energy efficiency fund’ which has helped local people become more energy efficient and save money on bills.

Agamemnon Otero & Howard Johns. Photo Simon Scarfe.

 
Howard Johns of Southern Solar (also Brixton Energy’s installer), highlighted that Germany has over 600 energy co-ops (over 50% of Germany’s renewable energy is community owned) compared to only 23 such initiatives in the UK. He said that, in terms of required capital it was far easier to get a solar project of the ground and reiterated that community energy initiatives were absolutely central to creating the energy revolution we so badly need.  

Clare Hierons of Carbon Leapfrog, praised the success of all panelists and posed the question whether there were simply more people interested in energy co-ops in Germany or whether there was some UK ‘blockage’ of sorts. She feels we need to reach out beyond our established green networks and engage more people in discussions around the issue. She appealed to anyone who is interested in even exploring the concept, to contact Carbon Leapfrog so they could jointly explore how many of them can actually we make happen.

Clare Hierons & Nigel Farren. Photo: Simon Scarfe.

 
Nigel Farren of Energise Barnet, who also sits on the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) community energy board, explained how he set up Energise Barnet as he felt his local council was not doing enough to improve energy efficiency. He believes a community energy group or co-op needs to be run with a business mentality as all kinds of skilled people will need to be involved. He feels that a major challenge is that initiatives are often started by volunteers who will actually need to work on the project as full time staff in the long term, and that its important to bear this in mind right from the start.

After the discussion, people mobilised and mingled in local groups to discuss how to enable local energy group start ups; we greatly look forward to hearing what comes of these initiatives. The evening’s discussions reiterated that decentralised energy is a key to a more open and competitive energy market, wrestling some of the power away from the ‘Big Six’, and that there is a hunger and growing need for a rapid deployment of community energy in the UK. Pioneering projects such as Brixton Energy have lead the way and shown what is possible; the more community energy initiatives that sprout up, the easier it will be for other newcomers to follow.

We’re thrilled with the launch of The Hub Eco Series; Tuesday’s event showed that there is a strong passion for tackling the variety of environmental issues we are facing and we look forward to the next event in due course.

Kirstie Wielandt contributed and subedited this article.
Photos by Simon Scarfe.

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