The main news feature on the morning of the Community Energy – New Horizons conference was that Hinkley Point C had been given the go ahead by the UK Government to deliver energy by 2030 or later. It felt like a contradiction to everything the community energy sector is about through our ambition to generate energy locally, invest in energy locally and share the profits from schemes locally whilst providing clean and sustainable energy. But this was not a day to be negative about the future of energy production and supply. Here Community Energy Wales was hosting its annual conference in Bethesda, to explore an alternative energy future and provide the chance to celebrate the innovation, progress and success being delivered by communities across Wales.
Bethesda and the surrounding area in North Wales is nurturing a community energy revolution, with an exciting new model to generate and supply energy in a local context, with a consortium of locally owned projects involved in the system, called Cyd Ynni.
The schedule of speakers for the morning of the conference included an all-female panel who collectively provided a great local and national perspective on the energy local trial, the opportunities, it’s progress and the challenges faced. The conference was introduced and chaired by Sophie Howe, Future Generations Commissioner who highlighted the role for community energy in supporting our future generations.
Rachel Shorney of SP Energy Networks, who sponsored the event, gave an introduction to the the challenges of managing local supply and demand, and was followed by an overview of the innovative energy local trial being delivered in the area by Dr Mary Gillie of Energy Local, who developed the model.
A community hydro system based locally to Bethesda delivered by Ynni Ogwen, is in the formative stages and is one of the local projects taking part in the trial. Meleri Davies of Ynni Ogwen gave a local perspective to the trial, expanding on the challenges faced with regard to engaging the community.
The Welsh Government has acknowledged the benefits of such systems and was represented by Jenifer Pride, who spoke on how supporting innovation within the community energy sector is essential.
The afternoons proceedings began with Keith Jones of the National Trust, presenting a case study on district heating and then Alun Hughes of Ynni Padarn Peris gave a passionate address demonstrating useful methods to engage local people in successful share offers. Phil Powell of Gwent Energy showed the potential of battery storage in making community projects a viable and effective model, and finally, Dafydd Grufydd from Mentor Mon talked about harnessing the tide for a local benefit.
The list of speakers and variety of community projects underway include solar, wind, hydro, heat and tidal. A combination of such schemes and the subsequent formation of community energy networks is paramount to a successful, sustainable industry. A future with our communities in control of our energy provision has many benefits, but it will take innovators from all walks of life to join forces to develop, invest in and deliver a cleaner, greener world for our descendants for generations to come. It was inspiring to hear from such determined individuals and it shows what can be achieved when a community comes together to take control of their energy needs. Through the energy local model, not only does the system potentially make community energy schemes more viable but it provides direct monetary savings to local households energy bills. It is clear that across the UK community energy schemes are coming to terms with the current political environment and despite this they are finding ways to make community energy viable.
It may at times feel like the industry is forever battling against the tide, however we should use the familiar ‘turbine’ as an inspiration and use the forever-increasing flow as a motivation to provide more energy to community groups. Thanks to the dedicated individuals and the growing number of members of community energy projects we aim to become an unstoppable force that revolutionises the energy sector in the UK and Wales.
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