Innovation in Community Energy in Finland and the UK

* PhD: Innovation of Community Energy in Finland and the UK (Mari Martiskainen). Sussex Energy Group, University of Sussex.

From the Summary:

“This PhD research focuses on the innovation of community energy projects in two European countries, Finland and the United Kingdom (UK). The European Union has a target to increase renewable energy generation to 20% by 2020 and reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 20% below 1990 levels in the same timeline. This PhD aims to find out what has made the UK a place for community energy to flourish in the last five years. In order to do that, the development of community energy in the UK is reflected on another EU country, Finland, which has similar energy generation sources to the UK, but much less actual citizen-owned and/or led community energy projects. Both Finland and the UK use a mix of renewable and conventional energy sources, though focus on either medium or large-scale energy developments (megawatts rather than kilowatts, medium-sized district heating, large centralised power plants). Using concepts from socio-technological transitions theory, qualitative case study analysis and views of intermediary organisations, this research answers the question why and how do community energy innovations develop in Finland and the UK? The research is interested in how community energy projects are developed, how they establish themselves and potentially diffuse. Outcomes of the research are expected to be useful for citizens, organisations involved in community energy projects and academics researching the field.

* Cases

This research is interested in the development of smaller scale projects developed by local communities. Community energy projects include sustainable energy activities, such as energy saving measures, renewable energy generation, community heating networks and awareness rising campaigns. They are usually activities initiated by groups of citizens rather than led by businesses or national governments. Some of these projects do have links to local authorities, for instance in the form of funding and advice on local planning. Many community energy projects also network with other projects, often to share experiences and learn from others. Below is a short description of the community energy projects included in this research:

Asunto Oy Keuruun Ylä-Kivelä (Keuruu, Finland) is a residential block in Keuruu, central Finland. The 40-apartment block was built in the 1980s and in 2009 became the first apartment block in Finland to replace an old oil-based heating system with a solar thermal and pellet biomass heating system. The project was funded by a loan and Government Energy Fund grant. Key motive for the project was to find cheaper alternatives to oil, as well as the local district heating network.

Kaakonoja Area Residents’ Association (Valkeakoski, Finland) run a nine-month project in 2008 identifying and ranking air and ground source heat pumps (AGSHPs) suitable for their area. The project was funded by the EU Leader programme and before it started local residents were surveyed for their knowledge of energy saving and heat pump technology. The Residents’ Association has around 250 household members and over 100 heat pumps have been installed since the study. Key motivation for the project was the lack of independent information on heat pump technology and the need to reduce heating bills.

Lyndhurst Community Centre (Lyndhurst, UK) is a community building in Lyndhurst, New Forest. It serves the local community and is regularly used by 34 different groups and organisations. The Centre also hosts a public library. The Community Centre was refurbished and extended in 2009-2010 and it became the first community centre in the New Forest to install a biomass heating system. The project received funding from the Big Lottery, the New Forest National Park Authority’s (NFNPA) Sustainable Development Fund and the EU Leader programme. Key motive for the project was the poor conditions of the community centre building, while the NFNPA was keen to fund the project in order to help establish a local wood fuel market.

Hyde Farm Climate Action Network (CAN) (London, UK) was set up in 2007 by the residents of Hyde Farm estate, located in Balham, London. The group’s aim is to reduce their environmental impact and they have taken several actions to do so. These include solar installations at a local school, draught proofing measures, a community garden and general awareness rising on climate change. Hyde Farm CAN works closely with other local groups and they have also secured external funding from British Gas Green Streets and the Local Energy Assessment Fund (LEAF). They are now in the process of creating a local heating network.

* Initial findings

Community energy projects bring together ordinary citizens who have decided to do something about their energy usage

Projects are often started in order to find a solution to an existing problem, such as an old heating system or the need to reduce expensive fossil fuel consumption

People get involved in order to save money, do something for the environment, do something in their neighbourhood and try out new technology

Successful projects typically have a trusted leading figure who is good at finding information, filling in funding applications and getting others involved

Projects require time, resources and the willingness to learn new skills and concepts

External funding is key but often difficult to obtain, and projects tend to rely on occasional grant funding and insecure revenue schemes

Despite challenges, community energy projects are increasingly being developed and they network, share experiences and learn from each other in the process”

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