Northern Powergrid has partnered with Community Energy England and Scene Connect to launch the first detailed analysis of community energy across the North East of England, Yorkshire and northern Lincolnshire.
The Regional Community Energy Study is part of a wider initiative by Northern Powergrid to increase the support it provides to local energy projects. The aim is to drive the UK towards its legally-binding, 2050 net zero carbon emission target and deliver benefits to the power network operator’s eight million customers.
There are currently more than 20 community energy organisations within Northern Powergrid’s operating area. These projects address the climate emergency by generating renewable energy, delivering energy efficiency measures and advice, and even launching energy storage and low carbon transport projects. They generate local social, environmental and economic benefits, such as helping to alleviate fuel poverty.
The study outlines the results of a survey of these 20 community energy projects and unveils the benefits, challenges, motivations and emerging opportunities of community energy in the North East, Yorkshire and northern Lincolnshire. The survey found that, in 2019, these projects:
- Owned 1.85MW of electricity generation capacity, enough to power almost 600 homes.
- Delivered £250,000 of low carbon investment with more than 97% (£244,000) benefiting local economies.
- Delivered £400,000 worth of energy efficiency services and improvements to 2,500 homes and businesses.
- Supported 18.5 jobs and avoided nearly 500 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions.
The study revealed that the greatest barriers to community groups in Northern Powergrid’s region were organisational capacity and a lack of expertise. This is in contrast to national trends, which highlight the recent closure of the government subsidy scheme as a key obstacle. These broader sectoral issues show that communities need more support, funding and information to achieve the local impacts they are seeking to deliver.
Community organisations also noted a lack of suitable sites as a key challenge for project development and deployment. This barrier can often be overcome through partnerships, for instance by linking up existing local knowledge and relationships with asset owners for mutual benefit. The findings will support Northern Powergrid to improve the support it provides to community energy projects.
The report follows the launch of Northern Powergrid’s Community Energy Engagement Strategy in May 2020, which set out 26 actions the company is taking to support community energy groups across its operational area.
Anda Baumerte, Sustainability Manager at Northern Powergrid, said: “Community energy is a great example of how decarbonisation can bring a multitude of social, economic, and environmental benefits to an area. We remain committed to supporting local community energy groups to achieve our vision – a smart, flexible and clean energy system that benefits everyone.
“We already play a central role in enabling low carbon community projects by connecting them to our network. As we build our next business plan, decarbonisation remains a key theme. We are focused on how we can be a force for good and collaborate with our stakeholders to enable net zero carbon emissions across our region.”
Distribution Network Operators (DNOs) – such as Northern Powergrid – must balance improvements in the service provided with the cost. The energy system regulator, Ofgem, helps DNOs manage this balance by setting what they must deliver and the costs they can pass on to customers within five-year price control periods. This process provides DNOs with incentives to meet the challenges of delivering a low carbon, sustainable energy sector while providing value for money for customers.
The current period – known as RIIO-ED1 – closes in 2023, when the next period – RIIO-ED2 – will begin. In August 2020, Northern Powergrid became the UK’s first distribution network operator to release its emerging business plan views for RIIO-ED2. Building our Plan for 2023 – 2028 Emerging Thinking outlines how the network operator plans to support a green economic recovery and power the lives of its eight million customers across the North East, Yorkshire and northern Lincolnshire from 2023 to 2028.
The company’s full Emerging Thinking document will provide more detail and share proposals and options for customers and other key stakeholders to engage and feedback on. It will be launched alongside an interactive website in September.