The district heating sector is the best example of local energy projects being owned and/or operated by local government entities. Whether just providing host buildings to be fed by heating and cooling networks, collaborating with developers on pipeline routes or even operating the overall system, local government usually gets involved.
But local authorities can go further. Britain’s government-funded Energy Research Centre (UKERC) has found increasing activity by UK authorities in local energy supply initiatives that often involve partnerships with community groups and may demonstrate alternative business models to the mainstream.
Authorities were found to be particularly active in local heat and energy efficiency projects, typically areas in which they can plan and coordinate action efficiently, despite these often proving difficult for central government.
Energy distribution and use is implicated in every area of public service, ranging from housing provision and waste collection and disposal, to transport and planning, says UKERC, so local authorities are uniquely placed to play a significant role in developing a low carbon economy.
There are problems, of course, with austerity in public finances prevalent in local as well as central government, but the local energy project sector appears to be growing in the UK.
Another approach is not-for-profit local energy suppliers established by local authorities in order to provide consumers with a cheaper alternative to the bigger power suppliers. Nottingham’s Robin Hood Energy, north London’s Angelic Energy and the Liverpool Energy Community Company are all recent examples. The Scottish government has said that it will launch a public energy company as well.
Britain already also has over 200 community-led energy organisations, according to a survey carried out by Community Energy England (CEE), which together operate over 180 MW of energy generating capacity. Community projects have a good record of garnering project finance, leveraging nearly £200 million in project finance from less than £2 million of project development funding, adds CEE. But the removal of some UK government programmes to support new schemes – austerity again – may damage the sector.
Nevertheless, whether operated by the local authority or established by a grass-roots community organisation, local energy has a firm foothold in the UK’s energy mix.