Community Energy and Energy Efficiency – where next?

by Blog

Though energy efficiency has always been seen as the ‘ugly duckling’ of the Community Energy sector, with groups often finding it easier to focus on renewable generation, changing government policy and the desire to find new viable business models has led to a renewed interest in retrofit and demand reduction.

Ahead of an event in Birmingham organised by Community Energy England and Carbon Co-op, Jonathan Atkinson takes a look at new and emerging energy efficiency models and assesses challenges and opportunities for groups.

[Interested in new models for Community Energy? Check out our blog on Community Energy and Energy System innovation.]

“It’s what we were set up to do.”

Energy Efficiency activities include the retrofitting of homes and business properties with improvements such as solid wall insulation and behaviour change to encourage people to change how and when they use energy. Most Community Energy groups in the UK were set up to take collective action on climate change and there is a widespread acceptance that we need to reduce the amount of energy we’re using otherwise we will never be able to generate enough clean, renewable energy to service our needs. Despite this ambition, as indicated by the CEE State of the Sector report 2017, 67% Community Energy groups are focused on generation with just 17% primarily focused on demand reduction.

Don’t mention the Green Deal!

As with renewables, Government policy in the area of energy efficiency has been built on shifting sands. The huge failure of the Green Deal programme, the mechanism by which householders could fund energy efficiency works up front and pay this off through energy bills, continues to be felt and only now, three years after it was effectively scrapped are new, green policy shoots starting to emerge.

ECO – Energy Company Obligation – was once seen as the funding mechanism by which Government would ensure ‘hard-to-treat’ properties in areas of deprivation would be tackled. But effective energy company lobbying now means that ECO is too low to effectively do this and seen as being only for the very poorest.

This ‘race to the bottom’ has led to high profile examples of poor quality ECO schemes (and predecessor programmes CERT and CESP) and at the Birmingham event, journalist Kate De Selincourt will discuss the growing scandal of projects gone wrong and their effects on householders.

Hope in the dark (and cold)

Despite a negative policy environment some new models have been emerging. In Sussex, BEHESCo have been pioneering an innovative finance model that combines community finance with installation and the leasing of equipment. RetrofitWorks tackles the issue from the supply side, creating a co-operative of trusted contractors in an area utilising a range of project management and quality assurance tools. In Manchester, Carbon Co-op have been pushing the boundaries on the ambition of what can be achieved via retrofit, focussing on a whole house approach and the use of open source tools and social franchise to scale operations and increase the number of projects reaching completion.

Whilst these projects tend to focus on ‘able to pay’ owner occupiers, there is also much work going on to tackle those in fuel poverty. In Devon, Plymouth Energy Company have built on their long standing links with the local authority to deliver energy efficiency advice, low cost but effective energy saving measures and benefit advice. In Birmingham, Graham Ayling of Energy Savings Trust will be talking about the Energy Redress scheme which offers an important funding source of those working to address fuel poverty and can now be accessed by Community Energy groups.

Barriers to getting involved

Despite these opportunities, Community Energy groups face real challenges in establishing energy efficiency services. Many find the complexities off-putting and hard to understand, groups are rightly wary of the risks of recommending measures that might be ineffective or even damage homes and health. They can be perplexed at the sometimes bitter arguments that go on between competing approaches and technologies and cautious of advocating ‘magic bullet’ solutions. For groups, sources of trusted, independent technical advice can be expensive and hard to find.

Dealing with the construction industry can be off-putting, especially for those unfamiliar with its customs and practices and the technologies involved. Groups have been burnt by experiences where businesses have gone bankrupt leaving half built projects and angry householders. On the other side, contractors wanting to do the right thing have been put off by group’s unrealistic expectations, poor communications and well meaning but poorly informed volunteers.

In the area of finance there is plenty of experience of Community Finance, crowdfunding and Community Shares within the sector, as well as a great deal of innovation. But dealing with householders presents the further complication of consumer credit regulation, whilst the complexities and limitations of ECO have prevented groups from accessing funding.

Looking ahead

Though the point should be made that the tools and technologies we need to retrofit the UK’s housing stock (the only barriers are behavioural and political!), there are still areas of innovation in energy efficiency. There is lots of interest in off-site construction, ie approaches such as EnergieSprong whereby elements of insulation can be manufactured away from properties and installed quickly, minimising disruption. At Carbon Co-op, in common with a number of other players, we’ve been developing an Aggregator/ESCO models, whereby energy system services such as offering flexibility through electric vehicle chargers, battery storage, immersion heaters, can be paired with a whole house retrofit approach.

Provider, promoter, protector?

Whilst this all sounds very exciting former construction professional and now academic Rebecca Ince has been asking questions about how and in what way Community Energy groups should be involved in energy efficiency.

She points out that whilst some groups have been directly involved in delivering projects, so called ‘providers’, others have merely been ‘promoters’ of schemes. Whilst promotion requires far less technical expertise and is easier to enter, it means that Community Energy groups can become a hostage to the work of others. In some cases, groups have put their reputations on the line for contractors who have failed to deliver on quality of performance.

In Birmingham, Rebecca will highlight the pros and cons of the provider and promoter roles whilst also discussing the role of ‘protectors’ industry groups such as Community Energy England, local authority partners etc.

The road ahead

Over the past decade, Community Energy has been a place of enormous change, innovation and resilience. It has built itself up from a collection of well meaning volunteers, enthusiasts and activists in to a professional, organised yet still radical movement.

As with generation ten years ago, government has struggled to find effective policy levers to encourage energy efficiency, yet Community Energy groups have developed new models, opportunities and tools. Working together as a sector to share knowledge and innovation, Community Energy is now at the perfect point to lead the way and kick start a new wave of energy efficiency in the UK.

About Energy Efficiency in Your Community event

This event is a one day seminar aimed at addressing and exploring the themes discussed in this blog and helping Community Energy groups, local authorities and housing associations get involved in the delivery of energy efficiency projects. We will hear from innovators in the field such as Kayla Ente from BHESCo, Russel Smith of RetrofitWorks and Jonathan Atkinson of Carbon Co-op.

We’ll discuss how to address and overcome technical challenges with retrofit specialists Marianne Heaslip of URBED and Tina Holt from AECB, financial tools with a panel including Jon Lee of Ecology Building Society and the world of construction with Bill Butcher of Green Building Store and Paul Testa of University of Sheffield.

And we’ll have a chance to discuss evolving government policy, challenges and opportunities for the sector.



More speakers to be announced

10.30am Welcome!

Phil Beardmore

10.40am-11.30am Panel discussion

Community Energy and energy efficiency: opportunities and pitfalls

Jonathan Atkinson, Carbon Co-op, Kayla Ente, BHESCo, Russel Smith Retrofit Works

Session 1: 11.30am-12.30pm

Room 1 Carrying out home assessments, energy checks

  • Assessments, finding the right tool for the job – pros and cons of methodologies
  • Home energy checks, static and dynamic modelling – finding the right tool for the right job
  • rdSAP, full SAP, PHPP etc
  • Sharing experiences of assessments

Speakers: Carlos Alonso Gabizón, Carbon Co-op/OpenEnergyMonitor

Room 2 Financing energy efficiency

  • Evaluating finance products including: grants, consumer loans, Mortgages and borrowing
  • ECO and other incentives
  • Consumer Credit
  • Options for community finance

Speakers: Kayla Ente, BHESCO, Jon Lee, Ecology Building Society

Lunch 12.30-1.15pm

Room 1: Lunchtime briefing

Graham Ayling, Energy Savings Trust on Energy Redress Scheme funding for Community Energy groups

Session 2: 1.15-2.15pm

Room 1 Quality, ambition and risks of energy efficiency

  • Importance of design: expertise, knowledge
  • Dealing with Risk: addressing and avoiding the Performance Gap
  • Whole House versus single measures
  • Role of professionals, working with architects

Speakers: Marianne Heaslip, URBED, Kate De Selincourt, author, Tina Holt, AECB

Room 2 Energy efficiency in the community – tackling fuel poverty, community buildings

  • Which measures are effective?
  • Local authority collaborations
  • Funding opportunities

Speakers: Aneaka Kellay, Carbon Co-op

Break – 2.15 – 2.30pm

Session 3: 2.30-3.30pm

Room 1 – Procuring and working with contractors and builders

  • Dealing with contractors
  • Contracting options, balancing risks
  • The roles Community Energy Groups can play in retrofit
  • Setting appropriate expectations for community energy groups
  • Frameworks, contractor co-ops etc

Speakers: Russel Smith, Retrofit Works, Rebecca Ince, Birmingham University, Bill Butcher, Green Building Store

Room 2 Innovation in retrofit

  • Aggregator/ESCOs
  • Energy Service contracts
  • Off site build
  • New technology integration

Speakers: Ben Aylott

3.30-4.30pm Panel discussion

Government policy – where next for energy efficiency?

  • Green Deal, Each Home Counts and beyond
  • Future BEIS policy development
  • Opportunities for City Region collaborations

Speakers: Graham Ayling, EST, Emma Bridge, Community Energy England

4.30 Ends