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A Magazine for Sheffield

Sheffield Community Energy Taking the power back: How can we expand community energy in South Yorkshire?

A one-day workshop next weekend will explore how we can generate our own electricity and make our neighbourhoods greener and more resilient.

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Relatively few rooftops in Sheffield are currently used to generate solar power.

Anton Velchev on Unsplash.

What if we could generate the energy we need in our own neighbourhoods, and in the process reduce our bills and our carbon footprint while at the same time making our communities more resilient?

That’s the question that will be asked at a free one-day conference next Saturday at Cemetery Road Baptist Church, which will see people from across the county come together to explore the potential of community energy in South Yorkshire.

Hosted by Sheffield Community Energy and sponsored by the city council, the event will showcase successful community energy projects across the UK and allow participants to find out how these could be replicated in South Yorkshire.

It will also offer the opportunity for networking, and allow individuals and organisations interested in starting their own projects in the city to meet up and start working together.

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“Community energy is broadly defined as renewable energy and energy reduction schemes that are built, owned and financed by people in the community joining together around solar, wind, hydro, insulation and other CO2 reducing measures,” Dave Berry of Sheffield Community Energy told Now Then.

“Community energy is a way of people in the community joining together to help reduce CO2. It also builds cooperation and empowers people to be part of the solution in a democratic way that short-circuits the power of the big energy companies and puts communities in charge.”

The conference comes at a time of soaring energy bills caused by volatility in the global market due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, as well as the slow pace of transition away from fossil fuels. This has left most people in the UK at the whim of multinational energy giants, and has seen the government step in to cap runaway prices.

The fragility of the global energy system means that small shocks like interruptions to supply are quickly amplified, causing knock-on effects for consumers years later and contributing to the wider cost-of-living crisis.

By contrast, community energy schemes prioritise resilience over fragility – by generating, selling and using energy locally, these schemes aim to protect consumers from fluctuations in the global market while also generating energy in a cleaner, greener way.

These schemes are often led by small not-for-profits working at a neighbourhood level, rather than by national organisations or big energy companies.

“Money for the schemes is raised from the community, generally through share offers, to allow others to use their skills to build and run schemes and to supply local energy,” explained Berry. “Local community energy schemes are already run by solar co-operatives like Sheffield Renewables and Energise Barnsley, while Torrs Hydro operate a hydro scheme in the Peak District.”

“Sheffield Renewables recently celebrated generating their millionth hour of renewable electricity which they sells to community partners. Their latest project has been with a new local co-housing group supplying electricity to their communal hall.”

The business model usually sees organisations like Sheffield Renewables provide the initial funding to build the infrastructure. They then sell energy to local individuals or organisations at a guaranteed below-market rate.

They’re able to sell energy cheaper than big energy companies due to their not-for-profit setup, as well as the ever-increasing efficiency of renewable technology and the fact that they don’t have to transport or store energy across the country or between countries.

Berry hopes that next Saturday’s conference will inspire people across South Yorkshire to set up similar schemes, and will give them the tools, know-how and contacts to do so.

“On the day people will hear from successful groups that demonstrate how the technologies work, whether that is solar, wind, hydro or insulation, and how local people can organise themselves in their communities to be involved,” he said.

“Key workshops will look at how to get your funding and how to organise a group. It isn’t all about the technology, and people can be involved in publicity, finance or just investing in the schemes. We hope people will go away armed not only with enthusiasm but also with the tools to bring things to reality."

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