Think HBR

Community Energy, where communities take renewable energy into their own hands

Alec Roberts
Community Energy is where a community develops, delivers and benefits from renewable energy projects, such as community funded energy solutions for electricity supply to local organisations and businesses.
Community energy projects underlie the success of renewable energy in Denmark. Samsø, a Danish island of about 4000 people, won the national competition to become Denmark’s “Renewable Energy Island”. Over its 10 year life, the Renewable Energy Island Samsø community energy project managed to transform Samsø’s energy system from largely fossil-fuel to one based on renewable energy. The project implemented district heating using biomass and solar thermal, energy efficiency in buildings, onshore and offshore wind turbines and individual renewable energy installations such as heat pumps and solar PV. The majority of the investments are owned by local cooperatives, farmers or businesses. Samsø also became a net exporter of electricity offsetting its transport sector reliance on fossil fuels.
The project’s success was in part due to government support, including a national energy policy with clear guidelines, technology support, and establishment of local information centres to promote renewable energy use and energy efficiency.
Local conditions that helped included Samsø’s long experience with agricultural cooperatives, a strong innovative drive and entrepreneurial ethos, previous experience with renewable energy, and an active community and community spirit that included inclusiveness and respect for alternative opinions.
The project’s master plan translated national goals and guidelines into concrete local action and a common vision on Samsø. Local community interests and the plan were successfully combined through numerous meetings in the Island villages. Communities were given the ability to adapt plans to their local context, focussing on local development. The project was a “true” community energy project with broad local participation.
De Windvogel
In 1988, 18 people got together in Reeuwijk, The Netherlands.
They saw that the future of energy lies in renewable sources, and to help their community, decided to build a wind turbine.
The job of selecting a wind turbine was fairly easy as there wasn’t a great deal of variety available. The supporting organisation setup was a cooperative association named “De Windvogel” (The Wind Bird).
De Windvogel grew from 18 to 100 members in its first year and raised $53,000 in member capital. The wind turbine was commissioned in 1993 at a total cost of $160,000.
The social model behind this is that everyone should be able to participate in renewable energy. The business model follows that every house needs electricity and pays for it (buying power), which provides collateral for the bank. The loan from members is used as leverage for a bank loan which is repaid with this buying power. The cooperative now has 3400 members, 4 debt free turbines with equity of $7.3 million and $3 million which will leverage $30 million.
In Sydney last year, the community energy cooperative Pingala funded a solar installation at Young Henrys, Newtown. In Newcastle, CLEANaS successfully funded the solar installation at Hunter Wetlands Centre, and are looking for opportunities for community energy installations in the Hunter.
For further information contact Alec Roberts on 0434 189 454 or email