The Culture of Community Energy
The British Academy has commissioned research into case studies of community energy generation projects across the world. What can the UK learn about the role of culture in shaping the success of community energy projects?
All over the world, we are grappling with the challenge of producing secure, sustainable, affordable energy. In many countries, local communities are coming together to create their own solutions to low-carbon energy generation.
Like the residents in Brixton who turned roofs into power stations by installing solar panels to blocks of flats. Or the community-owned company on the Island of Lewis that has built its own wind farm.
However, a recent survey by YouGov for the British Academy showed that 52% of Britons have never invested in any kind of community-owned project, and would not want to.
Why is this? There has been other research into the technical, regulatory and organisational aspects of successful community energy projects, but there seems to be something else equally important at play: culture.
A research project for the British Academy, in collaboration with Lancaster University, explores how local culture influences engagement in community energy projects in different countries. How do schemes and communities in England, Wales, Scotland, Germany, Denmark, Brazil and South Korea compare?
We think there are many cultural factors that can determine the success or failure of community energy schemes. Perhaps they are more likely to thrive in areas that have a history of local activism? Or perhaps in a place where local people already own things together like a pub or sports field? In some countries, there is already a strong culture of ‘social enterprise’, which appears to lead to more community-owned projects, including energy generation.
But does this culture exist in Britain? When YouGov asked people what might motivate them to invest in a community energy project, only 6% said they would do it to be more involved in their local community. However, 47% would invest to reduce their household’s energy bills.
In that context, what can policymakers, community groups and energy businesses do to help develop successful local energy projects in the UK, and what can we learn from cultures and community projects in other countries?
Our research seeks answers to these questions, and in doing so puts communities right at the centre of the energy policy debate.