LOCATION: 14 communities across the UK.
AIM: To use a competition-based challenge to encourage participating communities to save and generate energy and to engage the wider community in energy citizenship.
BACKGROUND: The British Gas ‘Green Streets’ competition began in autumn 2009, in which 14 groups from different communities in England, Scotland and Wales were selected from regional heats (to which 96 people applied) to compete for a prize of £100,000. Each selected group was given a share of £2 million injection of capital, as well as technical advice from British Gas, to spend on a variety of microgeneration and energy efficiency measures in community buildings and surrounding households.
- Through the programme, energy assessments were carried out in 491 households, with the average householder being recommended 18 low-cost energy efficiency measures, including energy efficient light bulbs, standby saving devices and reflective panels that fit behind radiators.
- A wide variety of microgeneration technologies were installed and arrangements made with regard to Feed-in-Tariff payments. Solar PV was by far the most commonly installed technology, largely due to the ease of installation and attractive return on investment.
- Engagement was included as a core component within Green Streets to investigate whether energy can be an effective means for engaging a community and whether community groups can act as a catalyst among surrounding households and so encourage wider uptake of energy measures. Engagement approaches ranged from centering education and awareness raising efforts on visible installations of renewable technologies, through to identifying and working with street energy champions, neighbourhood meetings, communicating via social media, emails and newsletters, and loaning out energy monitors.
FINDINGS & LESSONS:
- The main driver of energy savings across the Green Streets households was technology, and community groups were integral to the success of the technology installations. Whilst many community members participated for environmental reasons, many were initially motivated by interest in receiving subsidised measures.
- A multiplier effect was identified amongst nearby households who were not actively involved in but were aware of the Challenge, with 61% saying they would change their behaviours to reduce their energy use, and 46% having taken action on energy efficiency and renewable energy as a result of enhanced awareness.
- A number of barriers to community energy projects were identified, which fell into four broad categories: community capability, availability of finance, solid walled properties and heat pumps, and planning.
- Following an evaluation of the initiative by the institute for public policy research (ippr), a range of recommendations were made to enhance the success of future community energy projects: (a) governments should provide ex ante, impartial technical advice to communities to ensure cost-effective deployment; (b) communities need advice on how to set up and deliver energy projects; (c) governments should seek to better understanding the social returns on investment that community-owned microgeneration projects could bring; (d) loan capital should be made available to communities at concessional interest rates; (e) capital funds for community energy could be derived from private sources, such as housing developers, through a proposed ‘community energy fund’; (f) governments should launch a solid wall insulation competition to challenge academic and private sector innovators to find a step change in technology; (g) planning laws should be relaxed with respect to both a wider range of technologies than is currently the case and a wider range of buildings; (h) the Localism Bill must ensure neighbourhood plans are representative of communities; and (i) governments should fund an educational outreach programme on renewables for planning officers and local councillors.