The long term future for community energy in Great Britain: A co-created vision of a thriving sector and steps towards realising it

Authors: Tim Braunholtz-Speight, Carly McLachlan, Sarah Mander, Matthew Hannon, Jeff Hardy, Iain Cairns, Maria Sharmina, Ed Manderson

Published in:  Energy Research & Social Science, Volume 78, August 2021, 102044

Date Published: 16 June 2021


Explorations of the longer-term potential for community energy to contribute to the energy transition can shape policy and practice today. However, much community energy research in Great Britain is currently, and understandably, focussed on short-term responses to the crisis in the sector induced by recent shifts in policy support. Therefore, we held a series of visioning and backcasting workshops with community energy practitioners and other stakeholders, to co-create a vision of a long term future where there is a thriving community energy sector.

This paper presents the results of those workshops. Using the concept of business models to interrogate how community energy could be structured in the future, we find that the sector could diversify from its current focus on renewable electricity generation and energy efficiency, into new areas of the energy system: demand-side flexibility, mobility and heat. We also see potential for a Community Energy Confederation to help bridge the gap between the strengths of local organising, and the opportunities offered by larger scale activities. We identify the importance of actions by government – both at national and local levels – to realising this vision, in combination with the efforts of the community energy sector itself. Our research highlights the need for change in the institutional and spatial character of community energy; the sector’s pragmatic attitude to the technological aspects of the energy transition; and its focus on community energy’s role in delivering social and environmental co-benefits, in line with the concept of a just transition.

Keywords: Community energy; Energy transition; Local energy

Insights for EnergyREV:

Visions for how community energy could thrive in the future, including the governance implications.