Community energy projects offer significant potential for individual households to access cheaper locally generated and renewable sources of power. There are ostensible benefits with regard to both fuel poverty and environmental sustainability.
The motives for joining or avoiding such schemes, however, are not well understood. If these factors are better known, scheme designers and managers can seek to include measures to boost membership and address reasons for non-participation.
Key research Question
The dissertation investigated the character of fuel poverty in the UK (with particular reference to Wales) and its impacts, as well as the range of initiatives and policies designed to address it.
It explored the reasons why people expressed interest in local community energy schemes and what factors persuaded or dissuaded them with regard to engaging with this type of project. In particular, it considered the role of prepayment meters, both conventional and in smart format, in influencing households’ participation in such schemes. It sought to use the evidence gathered to suggest ways of addressing actual or perceived barriers to membership.
Summary of activity
A series of informal ‘pilot’ discussions were held with stakeholders in the Energy Local project to gain an initial understanding of the issue. Subsequently, semi-structured interviews were carried out with Energy Local wardens working on a community hydroelectric energy scheme in a deprived rural locality in Wales and members of a Development Trust in Scotland. These were supplemented by additional data received via email from Trust members and staff at a community bank.
Comparative research was undertaken with a similar scheme in Scotland to ascertain whether the issues differed by location.
The Welsh project offered significant opportunities to address fuel poverty in the local area, including through financial savings and improved awareness of energy consumption. It could provide a viable solution for rural areas with poor links to main energy supplies. Both the Welsh and the Scottish case studies could be replicated in other areas.
The primary reasons for non-participation related to householders’ anxiety about a lack of control over energy use, especially the requirement to accept varied tariffs at different times of the day. Wariness of smart meter systems was one element of a wider fear of change. Households with prepayment meters could not join the scheme, which could limit its role in tackling fuel poverty.
Those who expressed a positive interest were motivated by a desire to save money on energy bills, the ability to access smart technology, the environmental benefits of renewable energy and the wider contribution it could make to the local community.
Highlighting the positive experiences of those already participating in schemes (particularly the financial savings) and the community benefit may be one way to encourage others to join.
One option for those currently on prepayment meters would be to establish accounts with a community bank or credit union to help them pay energy bills, but further research is needed to test this. Such institutions could also fund the development of local energy schemes through low-interest loans.