Monday, 15 April 2013

Beyond Megawatts - the social significance of community energy

My generation and all of those following have little or no experience of blackouts. When we flick on a switch we expect the electricity to flow, with a lack of knowledge of where and how it is produced. As we become increasingly dependant on media and gadgets this reliance has hit record levels. If you were to ask a teenager today, to spend a few hours without electricity, the majority would be utterly incapable.

Modern life has distanced us from the production and impacts of what we rely on and in doing so, reduced how much we value it. This is particularly true for food, clothing, and electronics - but I want to focus on electricity.

One way to bridge this gap is through local generation. The idea being, if I can see electricity being generated, I am going to value it more. Add in the opportunity for people to not only view electricity being generated, but to directly benefit from it, and you get a sense of why community-scale renewable energy is such a powerful idea. From being dis-empowered uninterested consumers, we become active aware generators of electricity.

My enthusiasm for community energy first took hold when I read this and other scientific papers, but was reignited by a blog a read a few months ago. In short, community energy offers:
  1. A huge opportunity for our local economy to reduce the leakage - money flowing out. Local people benefiting from local resources. 
  2. Improves our awareness of where our electricity comes from. This helps us to value it more and conserve. 
  3. The ability for communities to take responsibility for some of their energy use by generating rather than consuming and contribute to a stronger more resilient society. 

The current centralised national grid relies on a few large power stations, that are a large distance away, to keep the lights on. As our antique infrastructure struggles on, many power stations are being turned off - most recently Didcot coal power station in Oxfordshire. This looming gap of generation has to be filled somehow. Currently the easiest and cheapest option is onshore wind turbines. We want to retain the benefits locally, so Totnes Renewable Energy Society (TRESOC) was formed, with Totnes Community wind farm as its flagship project. There are other generation options available and we are actively investigating them.

We want to help build a renewable future at the community scale, which we can be proud of for years to come. There are strong economic and social benefits for us to cherish when we succeed.