Community Energy: A New Democratised Energy System?

Helen Roby; Coventry University

Introduction The UK energy sector has been one of large-scale energy production, with households viewed as passive consumers at the end of wires. With the development of renewable energy technologies and smart meters, households and communities are taking on more active roles as producers and consumers of energy. This change could lead to a reconfiguration of production and consumption, whereby the energy system becomes both decentralised and democratised, empowering individuals and communities to contribute to its decarbonisation.


In 2014 DECC (2014) published a strategy report for community energy, aimed at supporting energy and climate change policies. This report indicated a change in government policy from centralised large-scale energy production, to small-scale dispersed generation and ownership.

The DECC report explores community energy’s role in helping to meet carbon reduction targets, with the potential by 2020 to produce between 0.5GW (2.2%) and 3GW (14%) of installed energy. Community energy schemes can also deliver other benefits, including meeting local needs, maintaining energy security, saving money and wider social and economic benefits (Cherrier, Szuba, and Özçağlar-Toulouse 2012). However, such energy projects are not yet considered normal practice (Rettie, Burchell, and Riley 2012), with few citizens actively involved in them.

The presentation uses findings from an Innovate UK funded project, Community Action Platform for Energy (CAPE), undertaken in partnership with Coventry University, SmartKlub, the Satellite Applications Catapult, Tech Mahindra, The Open University, Milton Keynes Council and Community Action MK. CAPE is an interactive platform to support communities and local authorities develop energy projects. Distinctively, the platform puts Big Data in the hands of local communities by bringing together satellite images of buildings, energy performance data, energy usage data and sociodemographic information.


An exploratory, inductive approach using semi-structured in-depth interviews and workshops was used (Kumar et al., 1993). Using a purposeful sampling approach, individuals with knowledge and experience of community energy were identified. 17 key informant interviews were undertaken with local authorities, NGOs, landlords, suppliers, academics and community energy groups. Data were also gathered from two workshops involving a wider group of citizens interested in community energy.


The research reveals the emergence of new business models that generate revenue beyond the dwindling Feed-in-Tariff. These approaches include providing energy services, through demand side response, where the local energy group can both produce and store energy to help balance the variability in demand and intermittency of renewable energy sources. Opportunities are emerging for local authorities to become Energy Services Companies (ESCo), creating valuable new sources of funding in times of austerity. These new business models offer prospects for the decentralisation and democratisation of energy, where control and revenues become more dispersed and local groups can become active parts of the energy system.


There is potential for community energy to play a new and vital role in the decarbonisation of the energy network to help balance supply and demand as the level of intermittent renewable sources of energy increases. However, for this to occur, there is a need for policy to support business models suitable for community energy.

Key words

Community energy, democratisation, decarbonisation, decentralisation, energy services.


Cherrier, H., Szuba, M., Özçağlar-Toulouse, N., 2012. Barriers to downward carbon emission: Exploring sustainable consumption in the face of the glass floor. J. Mark. Manag. 28, 397–419.

Department of Energy and Climate Change, 2014. Community Energy Strategy: People Powering Change. DECC.

Kumar, N., Stern, L.W., Aderson, J.C., 1993. Conducting Interorganizational Research Using Key Informants. Acad. Manage. J. 36, 1633–1651.

Rettie, R., Burchell, K., Riley, D., 2012. Normalising green behaviours: A new approach to sustainability marketing. J. Mark. Manag. 28, 420–444.


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