Capable, innovative and determined groups of people in Britain's many and diverse neighbourhoods can play a leading role in improving the energy efficiency of homes and community buildings and in putting renewable energy technologies to work. In doing so, they can support efforts to reduce the nation's carbon dioxide emissions and add significant value to their own activities and endeavours at the same time.

Policy outcome

In the government's 2011 autumn statement, chancellor George Osborne announced the creation of a £15 million Rural Community Renewable Energy Fund to help communities meet the upfront cost of developing renewable projects (at para A117), following the recommendation in Green Streets, Strong Communities. Our report said 'the Green Investment Bank might be one avenue through which communities could access upfront capital at concessional rates, for example, through a community investment fund'. This investment removes a major barrier to community-driven renewable energy project development.

This is an evaluation of the British Gas Green Streets community energy challenge in which 14 groups from dramatically different communities in England, Scotland and Wales were selected to spend a share of £2 million on a variety of microgeneration and energy efficiency measures in community buildings and surrounding households in pursuit of three objectives: to save energy, to generate energy, and to engage the wider community.

In addition to reducing energy consumption and generating energy - and valuable income - these kinds of projects can reach deep into communities and have pronounced impacts on attitudes towards installing energy efficiency measures and microgen.

The report identifies four major barriers to community energy projects, around community capability, availability of finance, the challenges of Britain's many solid walled properties, and the planning process.

To help overcome these barriers, we recommend that:

  • Capital funds for community energy should be derived from private sources through a proposed 'community energy fund'
  • Government, national and local, should make loan capital available at concessional rates
  • Government should provide ex ante impartial technical advice on micro-gen to communities to ensure cost-effective and satisfactory deployment
  • Government should launch a solid wall insulation competition to challenge academic and private sector innovators to come up with 'breakthrough' technological solutions
  • Government should fund an educational outreach programme on renewables for planning officers and local councillors.