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Carlisle residents demand a leading role in Britain’s energy infrastructure

[A]head of the forthcoming Community Energy Fortnight on 23 June, new research from Electricity North West reveals 71 per cent of Carlisle residents believe they have a role to play in the UK’s energy infrastructure, but 57 per cent stated they did not know how to get involved.

Conducted by Impact Utilities, the research was commissioned to explore the British public’s understanding and interest in engaging with community and local energy. The survey of 1,413 UK consumers highlighted that nobody in Carlisle is actively participating in a community energy group, despite 57 per cent admitting they would be interested if they could save money.

Steve Cox

Steve Cox, Engineering and Technical Director at Electricity North West, commented: “Our energy landscape is evolving at a rapid pace and our communities will play an increasingly critical role in this evolution. It’s positive to see that almost three quarters of Carlisle residents share the same belief in terms of the contribution they can make to our energy infrastructure, but there’s clearly lots of work still to be done to ensure they understand how they can participate.”

When asked what aspects of community energy involvement appeal to them, the top motivator was money saving (57 per cent), followed by reducing their carbon footprint (52 per cent) and increasing energy efficiency (43 per cent).

Carbon Coop is a North West based Community Benefit society that works to help householders and communities make big reductions in their energy use and carbon emissions.  Its CEO Jonathan Atkinson added: “While the changing energy sector presents significant opportunities for community and local energy groups to work with network operators, such as Electricity North West, a lack of understanding among consumers remains a large barrier as highlighted by this research.

“In those communities where local energy groups are already active, the benefits are tangible so we’re keen to continue our collaborative work to ensure more people can see the advantages community involvement can bring, not just locally, but nationally also. We’re understandably excited for the future of Britain’s energy infrastructure and the key role community and local energy groups in Carlisle will increasingly play in this.”

Alongside the research, Electricity North West has launched its Community and Local Energy Strategy, which sets out its vision for supporting the growth of community energy, a key strand of the organisation’s wider strategy for meeting the UK’s target of achieving an 80 per cent reduction in carbon emissions by 2050 and building a smarter and more flexible power network for the future.

Helen Seagrave, Community Energy Manager at Electricity North West, explained: “As an organisation, we are absolutely committed to the transition to a low carbon economy and as such, it’s vital that we play a central role in facilitating this transition in Carlisle and throughout the rest of the North West.

“Community and local energy groups will form a key part in this transition, and with close engagement, collaboration and innovation, together we can deliver a smart energy network and an infrastructure fit for modern Britain.

“With communities at the heart of all that we do, we also want to support activities that directly benefit them, while protecting vulnerable customers and promoting energy efficiency. Again, community and local energy will play an increasingly important role in the delivery of power to the region.”

The strategy will be officially launched at the Community Energy Conference, which is co-hosted by Community Energy England and Co-op Energy, on 23 June at University of Manchester. Following detailed stakeholder engagement, Electricity North West’s Community and Local Energy Strategy focuses heavily upon early engagement with community and local energy groups and the importance of collaboration and innovation.

Included within the Strategy is a stakeholder engagement plan that will enable Electricity North West to develop relationships and increase understanding of the challenges facing community and local energy groups to help deliver collaborative solutions. To increase the capacity and skills within the sector, Electricity North West has launched a series of workshops called ‘Community Connects’.

The Community and Local Energy Strategy will seek to develop a response which addresses some of the financial issues community and local energy groups face while meeting its commitment to keeping costs down for all customers.

To achieve this, innovation and collaboration is key and the Strategy proposes a call for innovation projects; it is hoped this will help develop a ‘smart energy grid’, and in turn, reduce the need for expensive investment into network upgrades which would hit bill payers.

The network operator will also explore options for enabling community or local energy groups to develop projects on its land, as well as buying community and local energy to support its overall strategy of increasing the amount of low carbon generation it uses as a business.

Helen concludes: “The launch of our Community and Local Energy Strategy is just the start of the process and we hope that this approach will set the foundations for the development of a smart and modern energy network, that can support the region’s needs now and into the future.”

In April 2018, Electricity North West launched its vision for how it will help transform how energy is delivered across the North West, including community energy schemes. Replacing the traditional Distribution Network Operator (DNO) model, the report, ‘Powering the North West’s Future’, outlines the key roles and responsibilities of a smarter, more flexible Distribution ‘System’ Operator (DSO) and the technical and regulatory challenges the industry faces in transitioning to this new model.

In its advisory role, Electricity North West has also launched a consumer hub – the Big Energy Conversation – aimed at getting the public actively engaged and switched on to the reality of energy consumption. With this latest research revealing 59 per cent of people would like to learn more about community and local energy online, the network operator has extended the Big Energy Conversation to include a wealth of information specifically on the subject.

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