November success story: Putting climate action into practice on the doorstep of COP26
Community energy is key to action on the climate crisis. It can empower people, boost local economies, and reinvigorate communities. Community-led initiatives play an important part in the transition towards a 100% renewable and just energy future. Success stories of community energy projects can be found all over Europe. At REScoop.eu we want to highlight these stories in order to further accelerate the movement towards a cleaner and democratic system.
This month we look back at COP26 and the representation of the community energy movement there. Travelling to Glasgow also gives us the opportunity to learn more about Glasgow Community Energy, one of most active energy communities in the city. Their story is a great example of what happens when a group of enthusiastic people receives policy support.
The Glasgow Community Energy project
A couple of weeks ago, the world was looking at Glasgow because the Scottish city hosted COP26. Not far away from the venue where world leaders agreed on a document which is not enough to limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees, Glasgow Community Energy was putting climate action in practice.
Glasgow Community Energy was created in 2015 by a group of artists as an art fund - they wanted to establish an autonomous funding source for art projects by investing in renewable technologies, as an alternative to existing funding streams from fossil fuel companies. This initial idea evolved into what they are today: an energy cooperative that produces electricity and invests into different local community projects, benefitting people living in the area.
Last year, solar panels were installed on the roofs of two schools in Glasgow, resulting in an annual production capacity of around 78,000 kWh. The produced electricity is consumed by the schools at a fixed price below the retail value and the cooperative receives a feed in tariff on all energy generated (consumed onsite and exported), providing them with a small profit that they can invest in community projects.
The energy community attracted some media interest during COP26. Ellie Harrison, Chair of Glasgow Community Energy, explained during a visit to the solar panels at Glendale Primary School that local communities can and should play a vital role in tackling climate change.
"While world leaders fly around the world negotiating over targets, we’re the ones getting on with the real work of reducing emissions on the ground. We need more power over our energy systems devolved to city and community levels to make this work easier, and we need energy production that is owned by local people, building community wealth, and not the big corporates who exploit our poorest citizens and suck profits out of the city."
Net zero is not possible without people
REScoop.eu, together with other community energy activists, attended COP26 as an observer organisation to defend this particular idea. Or, as our colleagues of Community Energy England at COP26 were saying: “Net zero is not possible without people!”
As a member of the Community Power Coalition, a network of almost 50 like-minded organisations promoting citizen and community ownership of energy, we developed more specific messages addressed at EU leaders meeting in Glasgow. Amongst other things, we asked them for sound policies to unleash the huge potential of energy communities and the adequate financial support in order to unfold a massive renewable deployment programme with citizens at the heart.
We published our demands in a Community Power Coalition statement where we explained the significant role that community energy can play in combatting the climate crisis, ending the fossil fuel age, and accelerating the energy transition in a fair, just and inclusive way.
Unleashing the community energy potential
As pointed out in the statement, community energy has an enormous potential, but we need supportive policies to unleash it. Let’s have another look at Glasgow Community Energy as a good example showcasing this need. The financial support received from the Scottish Government’s Community and Renewable Energy Scheme (CARES) was key to carry out their solar panels installations.
CARES offers a range of financial support to local energy projects, but also ongoing support, mentoring, advice and more. In the case of Glasgow Community Energy, they received an enablement grant to do initial scoping on ground mounted solar, which led to a rescope of the project to focus on rooftop solar on community buildings. Later on, they received a bridging loan which enabled them to install the solar panels in both schools in 2020. The loan was paid back in 2021 through community shares.
Calum Watkins, Glasgow Community Energy’s board member, has some advice on financing for people starting community energy projects:
“Financing community projects can seem daunting at first. Projects with several stages and different amounts of funding require a significant amount of advance planning to make sure they are feasible, but thankfully there are various different options to help aid this process and financially support local projects.”
Glasgow Community Energy also received support from Energy4All, a federation member of REScoop.eu that has already helped develop 30 community energy projects.
Although it was not always as easy and quick as they would have liked, the collaboration with the city council was also crucial to install the solar panels. Now that the two installations are completed, Calum is optimistic about the support from the city council. “We have had several positive conversations on building on these early successes and they are promoting our work.”
Expanding community energy in Glasgow
Glasgow Community Energy plans don’t stop at the two solar panels installations. Now they want to develop more energy projects with the city council and other community and corporate organisations. Their list of future plans includes restarting solar energy workshops in schools, trialling e-bike solar charging hubs, reducing energy costs for a variety of partners…
Calum has a clear idea of where they want to go:
"It’s all about power to the people, we know we need to decentralise and decarbonise our energy system, but we also need to democratise it, moving away from the traditional models of corporate enslavement to soaring energy prices and polluting fuels. We want clean energy to be a resource that gives benefits to communities and inspires the next generation to do their bit. Community energy acts as the bridge between people and power, bringing together diverse communities and individuals to solve society problems."
Bringing the climate agreement home
While world leaders are(n’t) digesting their COP26 pledges, citizens all over the world continue their fight for a more inclusive, democratic and clean energy transition. By investing in renewable energy, clean mobility, energy efficiency... energy communities like the one in Glasgow ensure the protection of their environment while enhancing the social fabric of the community. If we want to reach net zero, we will need everyone on board.