Is the holy grail of community energy hiding in the Welsh hills?

Last year we handed in a 9,000-strong petition, calling on the government to make it easier for community energy groups to be able to sell their electricity directly to local people.

Right now the rules make that really difficult. We've just had our reply from the minister, Amber Rudd MP, and we're hopeful that the future will bring big changes in the way the energy market works. 

But things are not impossible as they stand.

An group called Energy Local have been working on an idea that could get round some of the barriers, transforming the way we buy power and helping community owned renewable energy realise its full potential. So we’re going to help them out.

The problem

Community energy groups are often forced to sell power to big energy companies for around 5p per unit, while their neighbours pay double or triple that to buy it back.

There's real financial value in generating energy locally, but right now it's being lost in the system – and the people who need it most are losing out.

The solution

Energy Local lets households form a “club” with a local renewable energy generator, and a licensed supplier like Cooperative Energy (who are helping with the first trial) to do the billing and look after the technical stuff.

Generators and households agree a price for electricity that is generated and consumed within the club, higher than the price that community energy groups sell their power for now, but lower than the price households currently pay. 

That means more money for renewables and cheaper bills for households.

Then the licensed supplier sells the households any power that isn’t coming from their local renewables - all of it made possible by smart meters that show how much electricity everyone in the club is using and generating every half-hour.

Having a smart meter also means that people can go on a 'time-of-use tariff' - paying peak and off-peak prices for their electricity, shifting things like the time they run their laundry and saving even more.

What next?

We’ve joined a team of people who have been putting the pieces into place to create the very first local energy club in Bethesda in North Wales. Energy Local are working with the people who run and regulate the energy market to get the permissions we need. Local partners Cyd Ynni (that’s “Energy Together” in Welsh) and Partneriaeth Ogwen are building the network on the ground and the National Trust have a hydro plant that they want to get involved.

Right now we’re looking for around 100 households to join the first stage of the trial - if you live in Bethesda then see here for more details of how to get involved.

In North Wales there are mountains and rain, and community owned hydro projects are in development right now that we hope can join the club in Bethesda in the future, which will mean more households benefiting from cheaper power.

This is the beginning of something special. Being able to to get a better price makes more renewable energy projects viable so more will get built. More renewable energy means less carbon and less climate change, and more community energy means a fairer energy system and more money for everything from tackling fuel poverty to training trapeze artists.

Watch this space.

Photo: Scott Davies Creative Commons