Carbon revolution in the village

Posted: 6 March 2007

Researchers have discovered that hundreds of green energy projects have sprung up in rural communities across the UK. They believe more more support is needed from the Government to help them flourish.

The team from the Universities of Manchester, Lancaster and Northumbria discovered that against expectation, more than 500 community projects have been under development by villagers and local groups.

According to Dr Patrick Devine-Wright from The University of Manchester, the research has found that as well as reducing carbon emissions, the initiatives produce a range of social, economic and environmental benefits. They also, he argues, make people feel more positive about green energy technologies.

One example is the community of Gamblesby in Cumbria which had endured the foot and mouth crisis in 2002, while their village hall had fallen into disrepair.

Bill Mitchell, Secretary of the Hall Committee said: "We were determined to renovate the hall and to use the project to help recover from the depression of foot and mouth disease.

"We produced a business plan that stressed renewable energy and materials and a high input of DIY from the village.

underfloor heating
underfloor heating
Gamblesby - laying screed over underfloor heating in village hall.
"Grants of £42,000 funded under floor heating fuelled by a ground source heat pump, insulation made from local sheep wool, internal decoration and external landscaping.

"Villagers got involved in different ways: we barrowed ballast, laid concrete, plumbed heat pumps, made curtains and painted walls.

"We had regular meetings and village fund raising continued throughout. One couple even donated money in lieu of silver wedding presents.

"The hall is now a delight to use and economic to run. This inspired the committee to obtain funding for our 'Phase 2', the rebuild of a dilapidated extension and the installation of a 6Kw wind turbine."

Low profile

Other projects discovred by the research team use a range of technologies including, biomass fuelled heating, wind turbines, solar photovoltaic panels and ground source heat pumps to provide heat and power to local schools, community centres, homes and village halls.

Dr Devine-Wright commented: "Community renewable energy projects rarely make the news and are at the opposite end of the spectrum from many of the high profile projects which grab the headlines" he said. "But they can play an important role in how we move towards a low carbon society - which the Stern report recently made clear was so urgent.

"The mainstream energy debate is usually framed between large scale investments - such as nuclear power stations and wind farms, and individual actions - as seen on Newsnight's Ethical Man on the BBC.

"But we believe community initiatives are often forgotten though they can be very effective in reducing carbon emissions."

He said that "Community projects are very diverse and are most accepted when local people are extensively involved, with beneficial collective outcomes for local people."

Dr Devine-Wright, who is based at the School of Environment and Development, added: "We don't say this is the answer to all the UK's energy needs but there's a bottom up surge of these projects which is not impacting enough on Government policy and that has to be wrong.

Uncertain funding

"It's in effect a revolution pushed forward by grassroots groups. Official support is strikingly unambitious when it should be enabling this to happen all over the UK."

Professor Gordon Walker from Lancaster University said: "When the team began work in 2003, we estimated there were 50 to 100 projects in the UK. But we discovered that over 500 were under development supported by different funding programmes and networks. Today's figure is probably far higher."

He added: "Funding in England for the Community Renewables Initiative, which provides advice and support to communities, is uncertain beyond March 2007. And cash provided by the Low Carbon Buildings programme has already run out once and does not do enough to ensure that all of the benefits of a community approach will be realised.

"Community renewables will only flourish in the UK when they are grounded in a longer-term energy strategy that recognises the spin-offs from community initiatives for households, individuals and society as a whole...

"At the moment, the Government's microgeneration strategy hasn't fully grasped this. It needs to catch up with the latest research evidence."