Renewing Communities Through Renewables
Samantha Go and Devika Narayan, SolSolution
Mümtaz Derya Tarhan, The Community Power Report
Who would have a better understanding of a community’s needs than community members themselves? And who can come up with better solutions to those needs but the community itself?
|”…achieve something extraordinary, as a community”|
Whether the need is economic, financial, environmental, or a combination of the three, local communities can respond to such needs through community-based renewable energy projects -or as we call them, Community Power projects.
Community Power enables individuals to take steps towards the betterment of the environment, their communities, and also their personal finances. It also enables these individuals to gather for a common purpose and achieve something extraordinary, as a community.
This is where true economic, environmental and social sustainability lies. Through igniting individual behaviour change and community solidarity, Community Power starts an empowering process that enables communities to provide local solutions to their local needs for the long term.
|Local ownership accounts for 50%
of all economic activity created by a project
Whether the locally generated electricity is sold to the grid or used to offset electricity costs through net metering or behind-the-meter usage, project owners receive a direct financial benefit from community power projects. A recent study from Germany revealed that half of all economic activity generated through a project returns directly to the pocket of project owners, or in other words, community members.
|Local Energy Leads to More Sustainable Local Jobs|
A National Renewable Energy Laboratory study found that the impact of community-owned projects on jobs creation during construction period is 1.1 to 1.3 times higher than corporate ones, and 1.1 to 2.8 times higher during operations period.
|Community Power uplifts the entire local economy|
Community Power Leads Us Towards ‘Negawatts’
While some may think the environmental benefits of community power projects go without saying, they actually go much deeper than one may initially think! Yes, generating our electricity from clean sources is important, but in order to combat climate change in a comprehensive and sustainable manner, conservation is indispensable. It is even widely recognized that conservation before any energy generation takes place is much more cost and time effective than combating the negative effects of climate change after the fact.
As underlined by Patrick Devine-Wright, the current scheme of centralized global electricity production from traditional sources creates a significant ‘spatial and psychological distance’ between energy generation and energy use. In simpler words, we just flick on and off without knowing where and how out electricity is generated, and without even a basic understanding of the economic, social, environmental and personal impacts of electricity generation and use.
In shorter words, Community Power helps individuals become more connected to themselves, the environment, their community, and to the world.
Securing Our Energy Future
Besides generating clean energy, community-owned projects also provide a more comprehensive and sustainable solution to our energy issues.
Generating electricity close to where it is consumed reduces efficiency losses during transmission. This can speed up the transition towards distributed power generation from centralized sources, protect the environment, and generate economic benefits at the micro and macro levels.
Community power projects are not only gaining momentum because of the economic and environmental advantages they provide, but also because of the immense social benefits they offer. Community-owned power projects encourage community-building and social cohesion as a group of ordinary citizens is presented with the opportunity to come together and achieve something extraordinary.
|Students discover the true impact of
solar panels on their school by looking
closely at real-time solar data
An essential part of ensuring community power projects keep thriving lies in communicating the benefits of renewable energy and community ownership. Educating the public about the significant impact and tangible benefits that community power projects offer can also help convince higher-level policy makers that they can take actions that significantly improve the quality of life in their neighbourhoods and districts. And where better to start the chain of education than with our future leaders?
|(Photo: Courtesy of Communities for Renewables)|
SolSolution: Empowering Kids to Make a Difference
Today, most of us just flick switches on and off without knowing where the electricity that powers our many gadgets comes from. Patrick Devine-Wright attributed this ‘psychological distance’ between energy generation and energy use to the current scheme of centralized global electricity production from traditional sources. One significant way in which we can bridge this mental gap is to educate our younger generation about where their electricity comes from. When kids are taught about energy production, it allows them to feel more connected to themselves, the environment, their community, and the world.
Take SolSolution for example. They are a Boston-based green startup that provides solar energy solutions for K-12 schools and are dedicated to educating our next generation about renewable energy and community power. It has a clear yet powerful dual mission that seamlessly fuses community power and education.
The solar panels on the roofs serve as a catalyst for engaged, hands-on learning, and the students play an integral role in assessing their own school’s solar capacity. The panels drive students’ curiosity and interest in renewable energy projects and green entrepreneurship opportunities. By experiencing a solar installation firsthand, students are motivated to take their experience another step further. Whether it be talking with a skeptical parent or teacher about the benefits of green energy or being inspired to pursue their very own community power project, students’ newfound knowledge moves them to take action. This, in turn, inspires parents, teachers, and neighbors to get involved after they witness how excited their kids are about green energy initiatives.
By educating our future leaders and the general public about the importance and value of community power projects, many people will be motivated to make a difference in their own communities, fueling new, lasting and effective community power initiatives. When students are provided with the chance to see the concrete benefits of clean energy solutions, it allows them to connect what they are learning inside their science and math classrooms with possibilities outside the classroom in the present and future to make a difference for the world.
Community power projects are capable of producing great economic benefits both at the micro and macro levels and building a strong foundation for a safer and more reliable energy future. But the social benefits that they bring are where the real magic lies. These locally-owned projects have the capacity to bring entire neighbourhoods together by strengthening their core identity as a green community. From there, this joint, concerted effort can demonstrate the measurable and significant impact individual choices and actions have on our environment. That sense of ownership leads to a sense of pride in a community, improving the natural and social environment overall. Isn’t that the type of neighborhood you want to live in?