Community energy systems are decentralised, modular and more flexible than the traditional systems. Furthermore, they are usually located near the communities they serve, which avoids long transmission of energy and keeps more of the profits generated from the energy within the community.
Why do we need to move to community energy?
A centralised energy system was highly effective in less dense populations and stable climates. However, the world is changing, and our energy systems need to move accordingly. Local energy systems give towns and communities a better chance of withstanding climate shocks. If the main grid goes down due to storms, floods or fires, communities can access their own local supply. Then there is the issue of ownership. Huge amounts of money are being made from the global switch to renewable energy. Local energy systems allow communities to take a share of that wealth and potentially use it to improve facilities and services in their region.
In many countries, policies and subsidies currently favour the incumbent, centralised energy generators and suppliers. However, there is important work being done to allow the scaling up of community energy initiatives.
How are others attempting to solve this?
There are many ways in which people around the world are attempting to adopt community energy. Below is a small sample. If you have any further examples that you think should be on this list, please get in touch.
According to Saul Griffith, author of Electrify, if we electrify the whole economy, we will need less than half of the primary energy we currently use. This is because coal and gas-fired generation plants convert heat to energy, resulting in overall energy loss of 68 per cent for coal plants and 42 to 50 percent for many gas turbines. Solar and wind convert energy more directly. There is no combustion. There are even greater energy savings in vehicles. 80 percent of a car’s energy heats the air with just 20 percent of energy making it to the wheels. In electric cars, 90 percent of energy goes to the wheels. While electrifying everything does reduce overall energy use, it requires doubling the amount of energy needed. Doing this presents an opportunity to create millions of jobs, bring down costs, clear our skies, quieten our city streets, and make our homes and offices smarter and more efficient.
Solar gardens can now be found in 40 US states and are taking root in other countries including Australia.
The gardens are a centralized solar panel system that can be accessed by people who are currently locked out of the renewables market due to renting, living in a unit or apartment, or do not have a roof suitable for panels. There are now community owned models where people can purchase a ‘plot’ of solar panels. In return they receive the financial benefits of their ‘plot’ via credits to their energy bill.
The community battery is an exciting and emerging new technology. The battery allows multiple households in a certain area to ‘share’ a storage system for the excess energy generated by solar panels. Apart from providing the grid with clean energy, in the future, those households will be able to buy and exchange their stored energy to reduce their energy costs. There are many trials currently underway including a trial that involves community batteries being attached to existing telegraph poles.
Electric Vehicles grid storage
‘Vehicle to Grid’ as it is known or V2G is another solution that is gaining serious traction. The idea is simple - electric vehicles are large batteries on wheels. Some car batteries are up to 3-4 times larger than the standard battery seen on the side of a house. If that vehicle is plugged into a home via a special ‘bi-directional charger’, then the energy from the car’s battery can be used by the grid in periods of demand and the owner will be paid accordingly. It is estimated that by 2025, all new EVs will be V2G compatible.
Community energy co-operatives
In a time of energy transition, declining rural jobs and climate change, more community-owned renewable energy will be essential in establishing a regenerative future. Multiple studies show that community-owned energy generates more jobs and significantly more local dollars than investor-owned energy does. Research from the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change found the local benefits may be 12-13 times greater than 100% commercial models because of the re-investment in local areas.
We the power
Conversations with coal miners about climate change
Vehicle to grid demonstration
Regenerative actions you can implement
We believe every one of us has a role to play in Regeneration. If you are interested in helping to Adopt Community Energy, here are some actions we have identified that you could implement in your life.