This page provides a guide to many worthwhile resources I gathered on my trip. More information on those I met appears in my final report.
- Before I started, Rocky Mountain Institute and Clean Energy Trust
- World Energy Innovation Conference at the TESLA factory.
- Community Choice Aggregation (I have summarized these schemes in the chapter on Movements)
- Interviews with energy transition insiders and activists.
- Further links
- Home of the Rocky Mountain Institute and a visit to Basalt and Carbondale
- Community driven Boulder grid buyback and discussions with energy experts about technology, the failed smart grid program and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
- Denver low income energy programs
- Fort Collins climate change and energy transition leadership.
Vermont. Burlington is one of the first American cities to reach 100% renewable energy. I explored the challenges ahead with both the Municipal Owned Utility and their rural, investor owned counterpart, Green Mountain Power.
Massachusetts. Coop Power – community energy in action and meeting the people who make this happen.
New York City. Microgrid Knowledge conference, geeking about blockchain technology with Brooklyn Microgrid and talking to community activists about the New York REV (Reforming the Energy Vision)
Samso The famous Danish island with 100% renewable energy, its own energy academy and a fully engaged community.
Denmark’s west coast Folkecentre for Renewable Energy, where I first volunteered in the early 90’s. Interesting to understand the energy policy changes of the past 25 years.
Berlin to Hamburg. Governance for climate change conference, a visit to Feldheim and interviews with the activists behind the Berlin and Hamburg grid buybacks
Freiburg, Mannheim and Kassel. Freiburg is Germany’s solar city. Fraunhofer Institute, Mannheim smart grid, energy rebels of Schoenau and Vauban, the famous car free suburb.
Dresden and Munich. One conference on sustainability transitions – local government and academia. Plus Intersolar, the largest gathering of the solar and battery storage industry that I have ever seen.
Edinburgh. A small devolved Scottish Government has its main focus on renewable energy and energy efficiency due to an energy policy context that is dominated by Westminster.
Eigg. An off-grid scottish island with a community that was forced to buy back its own island after a string of mishaps with absent landlords.
Inverness. Community Energy Scotland, Highlands and Islands Enterprise. A workshop on social enterprise and a visit to the Findhorn intentional community.
Orkney Islands. A time to reflect on cultures as this ancient part of the world tries to become the leader in tidal and wave energy.
Manchester. Academia researching sociotechnical transitions and local activists with unique Mancunian political tensions to deal with.
Bristol. By far the most welcoming town, Bristol is rightly proud of its progressive tendencies, great coffee and plethora of energy initiatives.
Wadebridge to Totnes. Down in Cornwall and Devon we find the innovators creating solutions for their local challenges and, in the case of Totnes, offering the template of the Transition Town movement to the world.
London. Regulation and markets. The innovation agenda of OFGEM and how it plays out in various experiments across the UK electricity system.
Sapporo. Like Adelaide, this is a large city with a declining rural hinterland and even its own population is leaking toward Tokyo – with ambitious plans for 100% renewable energy.
Fukushima. A fine way to finish the journey, to hear from a businessman whose world was rocked by the tsunami disaster. If we know the future we want, we have to get out there and make it happen.
Before I started
I am indebted to Mike Kanarick in Burlington for his invaluable work in creating an itinerary for me. Thanks also go Lynn Segal in Boulder, Erik Hoffner in Massachussetts for helping connect me to their communities.
US states are at different stages of privatisation of electricity. Most customers don’t shop around to different electricity suppliers. Ian has written a great blog on decentralised energy and the opportunities for demand management. CET is a non-profit cleantech accelerator for startups.
Kaitlyn has a lead role in community energy for RMI. Island communities across the world have built innovative microgrids that minimise or eliminate diesel power and use the most suitable combinations of renewable sources, storage and smart management.
- World Energy Innovation Conference at the TESLA factory.
- Community Choice Aggregation (I have summarized these schemes in the chapter on Movements)
- Interviews with energy transition insiders and activists.
- Further links
World energy innovation forum ^
The TESLA factory was an inspiring backdrop to the conference with cars rolling off the production line metres away from the stage. Elon Musk’s star power is evident, his vision for a renewable energy future is grand.
Solar City is one of the biggest players in US solar. It has since been bought by TESLA. SC sat at the negotiating table with utilities in New York to negotiate a stepping back from net-metering, showing that the solar industry can be allowed to play with the big kids on occasion. They have recruited former FERC Chairman to be Chief Policy Officer.
GE has created its own startup to explore service delivery of energy services. This technique is used to allow “Current” the freedom to have disruptive business models and products and to learn by doing.
Nest (owned by Google) support customers to save money on energy and make money by reducing demand during “rush hour reward” times. Reassured audience that NEST would not be sharing data with Governments on the East Coast. Interesting low trust in Governments and raises the question about whether massive data businesses like Google could and should deliver public value from the data.
Community Choice Aggregation ^
The first CCA was established in Marin county. A relatively wealthy county just over the golden gate bridge from San Francisco. During the extended battle with PG&E, one of the main champions died of a heart attack.
Aggregator for Sonoma county. Created under a joint power authority of the various city and county governance bodies.
Author of CCA legislation. California benefited from Paul Fenn’s previous work in Massachusetts.
A former mayor in Marin county, Shawn Marshall now advises on creating a CCA program.
Interviews with various activists and organisations ^
Tom provided a great welcome and guide to understanding Community Choice Aggregation. Marin County fought for roughly a decade for the law that allows counties to purchase wholesale electricity, typically greener and more local, than PG&E offerings. PG&E still maintain supply and provide billing services. KyotoUSA have helped tell the story and spread the impact of this initiative, including bringing the local leaders to talk at a forum at COP21 in Paris.
A sister organisation to CORENA (www.corenafund.org.au) where I am an involved committee member. Both organisations run a revolving fund with a key difference that Re-Volv have financial support to pay a staff member. KPI’s: empowerment = no. of donors, performance = reducing carbon emissions, outreach = no. impacted by projects and stories.
www.caiso.com and (grid architecture of the future – great podcast)
CAISO is a market operator for much of California (like our AEMO), a public benefit corp that operates independently of the buyers and sellers in the electricity market. Lorenzo explains the challenges of moving toward the grid architecture of the future in terms of both the physical control architecture and its intertwined market/financial system. The value of demand response has changed as electricity can flow both ways and we need to re-think the value of the grid from an off-grid mindset. Lorenzo is actively thinking about change, a champion within the system and supports RMI eLabs with his expertise. On a personal level, he is interested in the size of communities that encourages people to become citizens, and the size that can be resilient and self-sufficient if needed (ie with all the skills you might need to access).
Rusty is ruthlessly honest about his approach to driving for changes in the dominant paradigm. A paradigm shift needs the radical outliers and it needs creativity. These will not come from within the system. However the system has its language and knowledge and the provocateur needs to recruit within the system to learn these. Lorenzo had tried to create a forward capacity market to value energy efficiency and it’s worth looking at the VEIC approach to raising funds on the back of future energy efficiency. Rusty encouraged me to sharpen my axe and not to avoid conflict, to maintain the value of operating from outside the system and develop the craft of storytelling.
Woody has a trophy wall to celebrate the hard fought battles, many representing years of work. Politicians need activists to develop popular support and understanding. There is always a new battle, such as PG&E’s latest attempt to charge an exit fee for the CCA schemes that no longer purchase from PG&E power stations. CCA. One of the drivers for CCA was the climate change action plans and commitments under ICLEI that many Californian cities had made, but felt stymied by the inability to change where electricity was sourced from. CCA has provided flexibility for greenpower, solar gardens, feed-in tariffs, microgrids and other local innovations.
(worth enjoying the resources from the Clean Power / Healthy Communities conference)
Not a climate problem, a justice problem. We need to differentiate between distributed and decentralised and recognise that local ownership and control is also important. I have been cogitating the dilemma of not losing sight of principles vs ‘the art of the possible’ since I met Al and finally came across part of the solution in this dirty hands blog. This was highlighted by a perceived trendiness and tick-the-box approach to CCA as various NGOs try to roll it out across all counties in California. Marin, for example, use a single broker (Shell) to purchase energy and rely heavily on gas to reach climate change targets, while PG&E already have significant low carbon through hydro and nuclear. Bureaucracies think incrementally, climate does not. Can the distributed nature of renewable energy can be leveraged to stimulate a regenerative, sustainable and equitable economy? Glimmer of hope with effective Environmental Justice Alliance and possibility of Just transition zones within the Californian cap and trade proposal. Al also pointed out that GridAlternatives is used by PG&E to demonstrate its green credentials (which becomes greenwash if it is not founded on the right principles).
Further Links ^
Created as part of the bankruptcy settlement for PG&E, California’s major utility. Venture capital for clean energy.
The Institute for Local Self Reliance – John Farrell writes extensively about energy issues.
On another note, I would have liked to catch up with a long-term commentator in the small scale renewable energy space, Paul Gipe.
 Net-metering in the USA refers to deducting any exported energy from the total imported bill to create a ‘net’ amount. In this manner solar owners earn the retail value for all electricity and many US states have moved to change this arrangement as solar panels have become cheaper.
- Home of the Rocky Mountain Institute and a visit to Basalt and Carbondale
- Community driven Boulder grid buyback and discussions with energy experts about technology, the failed smart grid program and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
- Denver low income energy programs
- Fort Collins climate change and energy transition leadership.
Rocky Mountain Institute ^
The eLab accelerator runs focused workshops with clusters of stakeholders around a particular project. There is an emphasis on including the right skills and diverse perspectives in order to support everyone in the room to get a system-wide perspective, to think innovatively, build trust and hopefully work together on solutions that transcend the current paradigm.
eLab has a range of experiments in scaling the offering and expanding the impact of the program. An international peer network means RMI has been working with ARENA in Australia and running an energy futures lab in Canada. As a facilitator, Coreina has deep experience in creating the model (in its 4th year and still being tweaked) that will make the convening of groups productive and lead to a speeding up of progress. Some groups have come back for more. Audrey Zibelman – the key thinker behind NY REV used eLab to validate her ideas about alternative utility business models. An awful lot of take-aways: The energy regime is not homogenous, it is a mistake to assume they all think the same. Many consider themselves ‘mission-based’ in supplying secure energy and keeping the place running. Change starts within – you need to be open to other’s perspectives, you need consider yourself o leader and step up, develop empathy. Utilities, Govt and Investors’ power is based in money and they can leave it at the door. For community actors, their power is community voice and it’s harder to put that down and to build trust. Never any guarantees on how the power dynamics actually work. Chatham House rules is important. No shortcuts in working together and building a resume of trust. Continuation of the project after workshop involves placing responsibility with multiple organisations, ‘co-captaining’ to do this.
LEAP change-labs work at a state level and focus on low-income. Actors often hate Government (and have poor understanding of government) so important to work with those who have a willingness to change. Rotate each organisation’s reps deliberately to increase the benefits of the program. Lack of diversity = lack of perspective. Low income can spend 50% of income and rent and a further 20% on energy. LEAP has carved a space for environmental justice within the main energy transition discussions. RMI remains convenor and backbone because organisations are typically resource and skill poor but would like to see that change. Public participation and regulators: Community organisations deliberately make extravagant demands in the hope of getting anything. Better service leads to better participation.
RMI accelerating cost reductions in solar and improving access. For every $1m spent in solar there is 1 job but for every $1m spent in energy efficiency there are 10 jobs. Best practices from residential finance market. Kieran highlighted that rooftop solar has not really taken off in the USA, unlike Australia. In Rochester (upstate NY) working in a community with 50% child poverty rate. The sweet spot in the US policy context is 1-2MW, canopied systems on large rooftops and other underused land like dumps. Need to flip the ownership model to access the tax credits from the initial investment and then hand over to community group. Rural electricity Coops have a 5% self-generation limit imposed by FERC but they represent 20% of customers and 75% geography. I established that locational pricing was not fine-grained and tended to stop at the state border or larger market border.
Basalt and Carbondale ^
Titiaan is Amory Lovin’s special aide which means he gets to squeeze wisdom out of this amazing thinker on a regular basis. The ultra high efficiency house must have been one of the original co-working spaces. The solar technology has recently been updated with state of the art monitoring. You can’t manage what you can’t measure. I admired the famous banana plantation and it’s worth mentioning that when you go ultra-efficient you can start tunnelling through the cost barrier by saving capital cost on heating equipment etc. This house was one of the original examples of that idea.
Martha has been working with the City of Fort Collins (FC) and their climate commitments – see interviews with City officials below. They are a member of eLab and are running the FortZed project to realise a zero energy district. The Platt River coal power station is one of the cleaner ones in the US, challenge of how to retire this one last when the system is not working in concert and the decisions are left to individual jurisdictions. A purple community eg mixture of democrats and republicans. Techno-economically RMI have shown that I’ts worth $1bn for FC. Step 2 – keeping savings in communities, tactics and programs driven by cross-departmental task force. FC has a booming craft brewing industry and aerospace/engineering. Tech challenge attracts business and cutting edge ideas. How utilities are regulated affects behaviour – their hands are tied by regulation. Microgrids are islandable and create system redundancy.
Alice worked for RMI way back in 1990 and we shared an instant connection as two people who had been thinking and living energy efficiency, climate policy and demand side generation for 25 years. Ran the community energy workbook, mobilising a credibly large group and reframing as a partnership between Government and the utility – a rural energy coop. Alice has served as an elected member, run transport initiatives with the local transit authority. Much is driven by achieving local economic resilience and ultimately, petroleum independence. Teddy Roosevelt, “Do what you can with what you’ve got and where you are”. The key to changes has been creating the commitments, building the institutions and guaranteeing the resources to deliver on the commitments. Further thinking required by me on what institutions need to look like at the heart of the energy transition landscape.
Boulder Grid Buyback and Energy Experts ^
Tim has a technical background with a much research and commentary under his belt about the interplay between technology and democracy – particularly for Boulder He has contributed to International Standards and the DOE’s Grid Wise Architecture Council. His PhD is about the digital commons. The Smart Grid initiative was an injection of stimulus money ($100m?) in 2008 but the technology at the time was limited to smart meters, so a failure to deliver on the promise of smarter grids. Best investment might be distribution automation as we see the commodification of electricity from power stations to consumer electronics. Utilities have no incentive to deliver customer services like Demand Management and Energy Efficiency and in the meantime we can buy solar panels at Costco. Regulatory capture and public choice theory explains why the PUC’s principal mission is to preserve corporate profits and they operate with incremental tweaks on rates and rules. (By contrast the NY PSC has no industry insiders). Corporates also cultivate the bureaucracy. Boulder was locked in to coal in the ‘30s. Citizens are very committed to environmental issues – voted 2:1 in favour of municipalisation of electricity even while Excel spent $1m advertising against that result. Failure of Excel to deliver smart grid helped turn City Council toward municipalisation.
Hawaii came up a few times. At 15% solar energy, the electricity system became unstable?. Response was to cap the export from solar which provided a strong incentive for consumers to work out how best to use surplus solar electricity.
Chris is a psychologist and brings a social systems perspective to activism (see Change mastery, simplified) He reminded me at the end of the interview that friendships, fun and enjoying the people you are working with is the most important part of citizen activism. Alison is a geologist with an appreciation of climate change from the 4.5bn year perspective that geologists have (and hence sees biochar as an interesting development to absorb carbon). In 2009, it was the right time to drive for municipalisation because ‘the people were leading’. Informed people lead and the leaders must follow. Citizen leadership provides political cover. A people-developed white paper provided a substantial contribution and example of group brain thinking. A series of speakers were invited over 2 years. Interestingly, municipalisation was preferred because CCA had taken so long to develop in California (the result has been just as long). Utilities can be good but not innovative. PUC needs to be kept busy on other work. The dynamics reinforce the status quo. Citizens had to fund the election and compete with the massive spend by Excel. After a number of processes the Local Government has agreed to fund the municipalisation process. Transparency is essential to generate trust. Need to trust the process, reduce confusion and not demonise.
(Boulder borrows its own money at 14%. By contrast North Dakota has public banking and in NY the state green bank is funding the REV.)
The sustainability alliance reaches a network of around 1800 people. A 15 person tech team is supported by a messaging group of 30-40. The next level out represents the cross membership of all the various organisations. I squeezed in a lunchtime event at their renovated heritage building (co-working hub) by the Green Building Council when I visited Denver.
The process above benefited from Boulder citizens like Peter with strong technical expertise in electricity grids. Peter runs Homer Energy – the best software around for building a micro-grid and balancing loads and supply. Don’t expect to engage the utilities on the topic of 100% renewable energy – start with something they believe is do-able like 80%.
Boulder is a very sustainable town. It taxes itself for open space, has mandatory green building codes, maintains an urban growth planning limit and was the first US town with a carbon tax in 2006, based on its climate action plan and Kyoto commitments. Grid buyback process triggered by Excel franchise coming up for renewal. Since franchise not renewed, in 2009 fee was replaced with a tax. Climate adaptation is also top of mind after fires in 2012 and floods in 2014. Process has involved at least 3 citizen votes in 2010 (tax), 2011 (issue debt), 2013 ($214m to buy distribution system). Smart grid champion in Excel left midway through project. Edison Electric playbook mentioned again see link for anti-solar work by utilities – therefore the need to get better at comms. Coal station – Pueblo is amortised until 2070. Tussle remains on costs and City Government is running through that process. Utilities are starting to pivot.
Low Income Energy Programs in Denver ^
Skip worked formerly within Excel and dealt directly with low income consumers from the utility perspective. He currently sits on the PUC consumer advocacy committee. Ensuring state energy policy includes low income needs is essential. Many policies are at risk of creating the wrong cross-subsidies. Energy outreach works with electricity and gas utilities across Colorado to support low income consumers as well as delivering energy efficiency and some solar partnerships for “another warm night” – affordable home energy. Almost 1 in 4 Coloradans are low income and a high bill can lead on a downward spiral. There is a lack of affordable housing. The importance of the bridge builders, enlightened insiders and meaningful coalitions.
Their mission is to make renewable energy technology and job training accessible to underserved communities but this is challenging. The residential market is harder to make profitable than Aus and it differs from state to state. Automation will challenge the job training and delivery element of Grid alternatives mission. Nevertheless they work with all three utility types – investor owned, municipal and rural. Finance is a challenge. Rural coops can be good to work with because they see themselves as a community resource and like the idea of grid resilience and cheaper, local electricity.
Fort Collins climate change and energy transition leadership ^
Fort Collins is the relatively large and progressive town with a number of smaller partner towns co-owning an electricity system that includes a coal fired power station and half a coal mine. They have done robust work in their community to develop support and ownership over climate action plans in ’99, ’08 and ’14. As a community they are directly discussing the tension between coal and a 2030 climate target of 80% less carbon. Internally they have a silo-busting accountability process that ensures progress and cooperation across Council teams. Having done this sort of work inside state government, I came away deeply impressed and envious. We might mock American politics but at a local level the follow through on commitments and the citizen engagement is enviable.
To meet some of the ambitions in city climate plans John has been involved in developing the energy policies and programs for Fort Collins. He also works closely with the electricity authority, Platt River Power which is co-owned by the four main towns in the region. John described the varying levels of community representatives on the decision making authorities and advisory committees. Also noted what a difference the culture and ethos of the leader/leadership team can make to the Authority’s ability to discuss and implement challenging changes. Community has supported levies for energy efficiency and the Authority has brought in voluntary Green Power purchasing.
Fort Collins sees itself as an attractive location for energy cleantech and its FortZed project is part of that. Spirae embodies that idea as a company working at the cutting edge of electricity network design and control. 10 years ago Spirae partnered with the Danish Government in the cellular grid project. The testing lab funded generously for that project remains and is utilised at the University. The lab can demonstrate the impact of different assets on the network – wind turbines, storage, thermal generators, solar energy and diverse energy use patterns – under varying network control scenarios. Spirae is heavily involved in the NY REV project as an advisor.
The University contrasts itself with its competitor in Boulder as a more practically orientated, ‘real work’ type of place. The former powerstation has been converted to a testing laboratory and showcase building. I toured the lab and admired work on microgrids and off-grid projects targeted at developing nations. I talked to Cary about the extension program he runs. Universities delivering direct benefits to regional areas is a long standing tradition/funded program. Energy is a relatively new offering in the outreach of the university – run through a team of community energy coordinators.
I was delighted to cap off my time at the University by delivering a talk about my work.
http://cnee.colostate.edu/ – A former Governor of Colorado is one of the key people highlighting ‘America’s Energy Revolution’
Burlington, one of the first American cities to reach 100% renewable energy. I explored the challenges ahead with both the Municipal Owned Utility and their rural, investor owned counterpart, Green Mountain Power.
Burlington’s decision to go renewable was made almost 20 years ago because the decision was also made to exit a contract for nuclear power. The Biomass generator was built. As with most biomass plants, a deep resonance with traditional forestry industries, use of local resources and local jobs with careful community work needed to address sustainability concerns. (I stayed in the premium Hotel Vermont, showcasing local wood designs, craft beers, local food, energy efficiency, bicycle borrowing and more.) The hydro plant was built around the same time and has recently become wholly owned by Burlington, allowing the town to be 100% renewably powered. The town manages the cost of being 100% by selling some of its premium renewables and buying cheaper ‘old hydro’. Ken had fantastic insight into the challenges ahead – getting the supply department to devise the purchasing strategy and achieve 100% renewables was the easy part – the next part of our energy transition (toward micro-grids) will involve the whole company! The Board of the company is a mixture of public officials and community members. Admired Mayor Miro Weinberger’s frankness about the work of getting the community onside with big decisions. Likewise planning permission for the powerstations required direct community negotiations. Decisions taken to community vote and people turn up – amazing in the Australian context. Champions are important too. I was privileged to meet Jan, the tenacious advocate for district heating (instead of wasting the heat from the biomass power plant). A sign in the mall recognises the tireless champion for better urban planning. The airport has built a solar plant on its fringe land and also on its car park roof alongside the rooftop garden. When I asked Jane about her proudest achievement through many years of service to the Burlington community, she talked about the legacy project, a long term sustainability plan that, over time, is showing the fruits of robust work with the community – eg a flourishing local economy and the magnet schools for arts and sustainability. Chris talked about the never-ending marathon of energy efficiency, the importance of financial literacy, the difficulty of forging positive relationships with those who struggle to pay their bills and delivering weatherisation programs to low income and new American families. Fuel oil heating ultimately needs to be replaced. Heat pumps could be part of the answer. Smart metering is on their radar. As part of Council’s tech advisory group, get to influence building laws etc.
Gabrielle is part of the energy fabric of Burlington, having worked with and within different sectors and currently serving the energy businesses of the region through the energy futures consultancy.
VEIC bids into the forward capacity market and takes the risk and accountability for delivering a certain amount of reduced capacity needs through energy efficiency. This and the EERS state legislation support the funding of various energy efficiency programs run by VEIC. The NGO is considered the most successful and innovative across the USA. They are looking at a 8MW demonstration micro-grid project in partnership with GMP. They could be viewed as an ESCO with a twist because of the delivery to region obligations and the bridging between private sector and government programs worlds.
Green Mountain Power runs its own energy innovation center in the town of Rutland, Vermont. As the Investor Owned Utility that services much of Vermont, GMP is one of the most innovative private sector utilities in the country. Most impressed by the strategic planning that openly creates a company-wide conversation around, “what does our business look like when we sell 40% less electricity but still service the same infrastructure and customer base”. Interestingly, the Board has only one owners representative and is mostly filled with local Council and customer representatives.
Vermont hosts all three types of electricity ownership including the Vermont Electricity Coop. The CEO’s son was in the middle of documenting his father’s challenges with energy transitions when a much more personal transition came to light.
My first access to real grassroots community energy. Coop Power hosted me and after visiting their biodiesel plant and spin-off energy efficiency business (Energia – possibly to become a workers coop), I gave a talk to the members and friends of Coop Power. I love what they have achieved. 10 years of work as a community. I’ve blogged more about it here: changingweatherblog.wordpress.com/2016/05/23/a-visit-to-coop-power/
I’ve written more about the New York REV (Renewing the Energy Vision) here: changingweatherblog.wordpress.com/2016/09/30/was-this-adelaides-superstorm-sandy-moment/ . Great to hear the Energy Czar, Richard Kauffman, express his view of the economic efficiency that is overdue in the electricity sector – ie under utilised infrastructure which still fails to deliver energy security and resilience. Interesting to see the district heating association and their customer base (universities and other mini-city privately owned developments) converging on the micro-grid agenda. The whole conversation highlights a tension with our behind-the-meter, self-consumption mentality and the efficiencies we can gain at a neighbourhood scale.
Lawrence is the brains behind three big and integrated ideas – 1. build a micro-grid, largely from existing assets (solar, power boost generators for the subway) plus a few additional, easily funded opportunities. 2. Use blockchain technology to track all transactions on a peer to peer basis – electrical control and market decisions can be made and tracked and 3. Supply distributed computing power as an alternative heat source for building heating. Faithful to the distributed nature of the block chain, the system is intended to be open to product suppliers and other smart plug-ins to integrate their own blockchain enabled devices to improve the overall micro-grid operation. He acknowledges that the project will probably take a decade to prove up. What most impressed me was that the concept does not rely on any system/rule design changes and the sheer demonstration of concept would make others determined to do the hard work of system change to reap the benefits of a blockchain system.
Chris embodies community approaches. He lives in a housing coop, runs a community solar NGO and is a born and bred Brooklynite. He reflected on the diversity in his community and the sudden opportunity when consultations on the NY REV allowed the NGO sector to suggest targets for low income outcomes, that amazingly made it into the final design – a fine policy ‘window of opportunity’
I wanted to contrast Brooklyn Microgrid with one that had been funded under the NY REV but wasn’t able to connect with the right people.
Stephanie wasn’t available for interview and instead invited me to the Danish meets German energy transition event. It was a great reminder that so many people within the energy sector and the policy regime are focused on the challenges of transitioning our energy systems. Denmark has ambitious goals – fossil fuel free by 2050, predictions of 59% wind by 2020. Germany intends to have 80% renewable electricity and 45% renewable energy (includes heat and transport sectors) by 2025. Denmark imports cheap biomass from Baltics and Canada to manage some of its energy needs, resources which may ultimately be needed for higher value application such as aviation. Denmark is integrating heat, transport and electricity in its thinking. Germany has economic affairs and energy in a single ministry. The German public has pushed back on costs of the energy transition so continuing momentum and capping costs is the current focus of policy makers. Discussions included the dilemma of north/south congestion (which causes Danish wind turbines to be stopped), displacement of nuclear in the market rather than fossil fuels and the possibility of placing coal fired powerstations on standby for 4 years before shutting them down in order to smooth transition issues. Importance of stable policy (90% support in Denmark’s parliament). Much discussion about capacity markets and wind being brought into various markets eg to provide reactive power and the early gains when Denmark allowed small scale CHP operators to access markets. The auction process in Germany is trying to allow access to Danish projects – EU ambitions, challenges of sovereignty and democracy reaching across borders.
Pia and Sanni are policy makers and have been working for many years in developing and implementing Denmark’s great energy programmes. We met to discuss the four key rules for greater community ownership of renewable energy projects. (and strayed to think about champions within the system and the benefits of a far-sighted Minister back in the 90’s, also that the cost has worried some people and green realism is now on the agenda as the population becomes more defensive). 20% of each project must be opened up to community shares, community coops can access up to 10mKroner for project feasibility studies, green scheme pays for projects to ‘enhance local scenic and recreational values’ and a compensation scheme recognises changes in land values due to wind turbine proximity.
vindenergi.dtu.dk/english Linked to the turbine test site in Osterilde.
https://stateofgreen.com/en/profiles/city-of-copenhagen/solutions/smart-grid I love the State of Green concept for business promotion. Engaging with them was not so successful because I came in as an individual rather than a trade mission.
Smart Grid Links ^
http://www.energylabnordhavn.dk/ I visited the display at this new development. Time will tell on the smart grid aspect but I was impressed by the vision of green and blue play spaces – so relevant for our redevelopment of Port Adelaide
http://www.eu-ecogrid.net/ and http://www.siemens.com/innovation/en/home/pictures-of-the-future/energy-and-efficiency/smart-grids-and-energy-storage-smart-power-grid-on-bornholm.html There was a smart grid workshop in Bornhaven at the same time I was in Copenhagen. It seems to be an ideal opportunity to develop a next generation smart grid.
 There are many resources available from the event at https://www.agora-energiewende.de/en/topics/-agothem-/Produkt/produkt/294/Danish+Meets+German+Energy+Transition/
http://www.smappee.com/au/energy-monitor-home Academy staff have had some success with this Belgian app for smart meters and energy management.
Much has been written about Samso achieving 100% renewable energy, within 10 years of winning a competition in 1997 but without any significant funding – ie with existing affordable technologies. I spent time enjoying the sustainability festival and interviewing the energy academy staff about their journey and current projects. We also toured the island to admire wind turbines, solar heating for the onion plant, biomass district heating, the council’s solar covered car park and electric vehicles and to drink renewable energy beer. The Energy Academy operates as a consultancy with an interesting mix of community grounded projects, practical; implementations for the island and outward looking offerings. The most powerful story for me was the set of wind turbines on the island, the value of convincing the farmer to share ownership with others in the community and paving the way with the bank to have a certain offering for everyone who borrowed to buy wind turbine shares.
Soren has also written a book called Commonities = commons + communities.
Anna and Diana had brought their students to Samso to experience the value of a community grounded transition. They interview islanders who openly talk about their scepticism in the early days before Soren and co helped demonstrate that it could be done. They cycle around the island which has very low amounts of traffic, making cycling a joy. The students are looking to learn about energy transitions and the Energy Academy runs an intensive week of workshops for them. The experience helps them imagine opportunities in Maine or their own communities and also to understand the importance of community involvement in building the transition.
At Aalborg University they are focusing on an integrated view of heat, electricity and transport – all of which can be provided electrically with the right infrastructure in place. Frede highlighted that even though the energy industry would dearly love to sell us all energy products and services, such dominance is unlikely when all the elements of home energy and community energy are becoming consumer goods. Solar panels, battery storage, electric vehicles and heat pumps with the various smart home plug ins to manage and optimise energy use and electricity bills. Not only is the devil in the detail, the good is in the detail! Also discussed community ownership models and a group called wind and welfare.
It was very interesting to revisit somewhere I had worked 25 years ago. The Folkecenter grew through the early 2000’s as it delivered all sorts of programs funded by the Danish Government and the EU. However such offering are less popular now and funding has been cut drastically. Preben is one of the wise men of the renewable energy scene, still travelling internationally to work with countries on their renewable energy programs. He is adamant that local energy should not be called community energy unless it delivers benefits to everyone in the community. Need to deliver a common good purpose. At a very practical level the folkecenter demonstrates everything from local grid to high efficiency buildings and electric bikes/vehicles. Denmark appears to have lost sight of the benefits of small scale energy. At the moment, Denmark’s relationship with large scale electricity markets appears to be what matters and the larger projects such as strengthened interconnections are a priority. We visited Hvide Sande and Martin explained the energy assets in town. Wind turbines, CHP generator, heat storage and an electric heat accumulator (to use surplus wind energy) and a solar heating system. The wind turbines won the town’s support because they are linked to financing the new harbour. Marine engineers like Martin keep Denmark running – spotless plant, extremely well looked after. Planning laws have created winners and losers and stopped wind development almost completely on the west coast.
I have written about the cellular grid project throughout this report. I’m very grateful Per took the time to show me the results of the experiment. It is unfortunate Energinet are not focused in this direction at the moment but in my mind it proves some very important concepts about the possibilities of distributed energy. Per also explained the market aggregators that act as intermediaries for CHP plants such as Martin’s at Hvide Sande. There are 7 or 8 ‘balance responsible parties’ that provide this role and a number of interday, intraday and immediate markets that they operate.
Berlin to Hamburg ^
many of the presentations are online see “proceedings”
Both top down and bottom up approaches were explored with “after Paris” being a key theme of the conference. Dirk Messner proposed 6 key dimensions: Energy, Urban, Global Politics, Inequality and Social, Civilisational shift/culture, Investing in global cooperation. Crises – Fukushima caused Germany to double down on the Energiewende. Evidence for internal champions – in USSR for a decade before the collapse of communism, senior folk in the establishment no longer believed in the future of the communist project. Leena Srivastava: Celebrate what we manage but don’t lose sight of principles or the ultimate goal – glass half empty approach. Ability to persistently implement and flow of resources. How to create co-ownership of metrics to break down siloes. Head on discussion needed with the fossil fuel industry about sunk costs. Thomas Bernauer: Democratisation: unfavourable outcomes judged better if the process is considered good, people want veto rights for their parliament. Carlos: Brazilian forestry – schism between outcomes for large landholders and small scale farmers. Frederich: People get the politicians they deserve? Fear mobilises people. Martin Janicke: climate protection offers co-benefits that fossil fuels can’t. Robert Keohane: Not prepared to trade off climate change action against equity – what a provocation! Enlightened self interest. Oscar: Intervention theory. Florian: Transition vs Transformation ..and so much more good stuff – I love conferences.
What started as a simple opportunity, became a longer process of community activism and tenacious policy making. Community or municipal ownership re-localises decision making and provides an opportunity for costs and benefits to flow locally. The initial focus was to convince the municipality not to extend the franchise of the private grid operator. 40% of the community voted for this proposal and hence the vote was not successful. Vattenfall competed with CitizenEnergy and accessed its massive marketing budget to sow doubt about the advantages of local ownership. There was then a window to buy the franchise, at 100EUR per share they have raised over 10million EUR from the community. Unfortunately the city of Berlin has slowed down the process and the key volunteers need to think about ways to manage their time and energy over a process with an unknown timeframe.
Feldheim was one of the earliest places in the world claiming the 100% renewable tag. A small community-led process created opportunities for early wind farm developers (1995ish) and now this is very much a village not with but in a wind farm. In a neighbouring village anti-wind protest signs scream, “no more turbines in the forest”. Feldheim has grabbed every opportunity it can to bring the benefits local and it has taken the full 15 years for the community to embrace its new renewable energy identity. It has a community building dedicated to showcasing future energy options and when I visited a bus load of retirees were on a tour of the battery system, biogas plant and district heating plant, wind turbines and solar system. The village has built its own district heating network and duplicated the electricity grid in order to sell wholesale energy direct from the turbines to residents and bypass the energy market.
Arwen and Luise from Berlin were instrumental in inspiring Matthias to take on a similar challenge in Hamburg. I went to Hamburg because I had read that the energy from a recently finished coal-fired power station was no longer wanted by the citizens it was built for. In contrast to the long-winded Berlin story, Hamburg has achieved its goal and is now rolling out community projects on top of delivering local government grid ownership for electricity, gas and district heating. Matthias joined when there was an existing campaign by BUND (Friends of the Earth) focused on the goals of renewable energy, social justice and democratic control. The process of municipal buyback involved 3 steps – first in response to 5,000 signatures, then 60,000, then a community-wide vote reaching all 1.3m voters. Hamburg Government was complacent and seemed to believe the community wouldn’t succeed, so they failed to engage fully with the ideas after the first two petitions reached the signature quota. The Coop formed by Mathias & co worked with a Dutch partner to buy the franchise but the company withdrew. Vattenfall, the incumbent, spent millions on advertising and appeared to be able to pull strings in the media, the city government and with the dutch partner. BUND and the Coop had different ideas about the movement. It was impossible to meet all the voters so the Coops 200ish members focused their efforts on the 20,000 ‘prisoners of the district heating scheme’. BUND came to help late in the campaign as they could see the success generated by the Coop. Ultimately the Coop missed out on achieving community ownership. The new company Stromnetz Hamburg is filled with many former Vattenfall staff but with quite different governance structures. Time will tell what sort of energy transition this achieves.
 http://www.knowledge-commons.de/en/tag/reciprocity/ great diagram which is worth comparing with Elinor Ostrom’s key rules: http://www.onthecommons.org/magazine/elinor-ostroms-8-principles-managing-commmons Ostrom was cited numerous times at the conference.
 https://www.routledge.com/Energy-Power-and-Protest-on-the-Urban-Grid-Geographies-of-the-Electric/Luque-Ayala-Silver/p/book/9781472449009 includes a chapter on Berlin by Luise and Arwen.
Freiburg, Mannheim and Kassel ^
Craig blogs about the German Energy Transition and creates an important go between on the German and English stories. He has recently moved to Berlin so we didn’t get to meet in person but was kind enough to give me a run down of Must-see’s in Freiburg.
I wanted to get some insights into the Model City Mannheim smart grid and Energy Butler project. This is just one of a suite of smart grid projects funded over four years by the German Government. Unfortunately there seems little motivation for any of the experiments to be commercialised or mainstreamed. Later at Intersolar a conference speaker suggested we should no longer wait for the smart grid because utilities had demonstrated over the past decade that they won’t provide it. Instead the smarts will come from smart homes and radiate from there into the market.
Almut is a volunteer and music teacher in the alternative suburb of Vauban. I have quoted Vauban in policy work on climate smart cities so I was keen to understand its story in person. It feels like an alternative place – its public realm is slightly unkempt, as if the city government has no jurisdiction there. Indeed its story is about the existing squatters being allowed to try something novel because they created a significant community voice. They have the highest density housing in the city but it doesn’t feel crowded. They pioneered multi-family ownership of housing and created capacity within the design sector to deal with the coop model of ownership. They are most famous for being car-free. The cars park on the fringes of the suburb in multistorey carparks. This gives the place a beautifully calm feel. They continue to work together as a community which has its pros and cons in term of skills and capacity.
Tanja patiently took me through the EWS grid buyback story, as I am sure she has done many times before and you can find much on the web about these pioneers. As with other stories I collected, the pace of change was slow and outlasted terms of Government. After the first vote EWS was given 4 years to build the capacity and prove they could be trusted to become a supplier. However, when they needed to be fast they were. In response to needing an extra 1mEuros they innovatively crowdfunded from the German community, in the days before crowdfunding was a thing. Subsequently the courts found they had been overcharged by the incumbent and they got their money back. They are currently in the EU court because a competitor has argued that the ‘community outcomes’ in the local government contract give EWS too much of an advantage. EWS want to see this principle tested because they believe energy systems should deliver community value. I was thoroughly impressed with their approach to governance. Tanja explained the decisions they have made in the past to reinvest rather than pay more in dividends – with the loss of a few shareholders but significant gains in support from others. Whenever they win a franchise in a new town EWS work hard to ensure there is shareholding and support from the local community.
ISES runs its headquarters from Freiburg. The solar system helps fund the organisation and the innovative refurbished wall seeks to improve the passive design and insulation of this heritage building. They work with a number of networks including the 100% renewables campaign.
A visit to Freiburg is not complete without admiring the architecture of one of the first dedicated solar designers. His Solar Ship and Heliotrope seek to maximise for passive solar design as well as solar generation and solar hot water. They lie within a stone’s throw of Vauban.
This is the industry promotion branch of the Freiburg Government and I was interested to discover their stand at Intersolar – leveraging the benefits of Freiburg’s solar city reputation.
The Fraunhofer has a significant presence in Freiburg (and also in Kassel) providing leading edge solar, wind, battery and energy systems research. www.fraunhofer.de/en/research/fields-of-research/energy-resources/renewable-energy.html
Dresden and Munich ^
So many droplets of gold at this conference, largely reaching key academic communities that have collaborated on sustainability transitions for an EU project. Genk, Dresden, Brighton with partners also from Hungary and Sweden. Mundano, graffiti artist who learnt how to scale his message and lose control. Giving dignity to waste collectors. Policy hacking by painting carts on the bike lanes. Barcelona’s shift to radical democracy – coproduction of policy, high quality public deliberation, open govt – info available in real time, local public services devolved to communities, community action plans and joint implementation. Great community initiatives – transition towns, community gardens, maker spaces, refugee support. The EU bureaucrat providing support but struggling to fulfil typical EU metrics – partly due to timescale. The eternal question of resources. Five actors: social innovator; public authorities; local business; civic bodies; technology institution. Power is what you believe it is? Only with collaboration can you write new rules. Movement needs shared language, vision and symbols. The power of fun – it needs to be fun.
http://www.intersolar.de/en/home.html I was blown away by the size of the halls full of solar equipment and batteries. Great to hear the research sector detailing the performance of batteries under certain conditions. We still have a lot to learn to ensure battery investments give the returns promised. Germany has some 20,000 solar/storage systems installed on houses. All the auto manufacturers were there – talking second life systems for using their discarded batteries from electric vehicles to support grid management. Dipped in to smart grid, blockchain and other technology leaders as well as policy development and challenges. Chatted to many of the folk below.
There were few Australians. These good folk setting up grids for embedded networks in Qld.
Part of the University in a renovated heritage building, this beautiful setting has a humming coffee shop, and positions itself to cluster innovative companies, run courses and create a hub, also as a catalyst, brokerage with policy interface. The climateXchange project provides a link to international hubs. Scottish energy policy: The energy trilemma – security, price/affordability and carbon. Enviro / economy doesn’t need to be a tension. In Scotland the Act allows only renewable energy and energy efficiency, so that has driven focus. Green Deal was meant to bring finance to energy but is least trusted. Sustaining community life. Re-connecting people to the energy that sustains their lifestyle.
Community and Renewable Energy Scheme (CARES) ran as a program from 2009 – 2011 and funded over 1,000 small projects including heat pumps and solar PV. Solar policy in UK has fluctuated with Feed In Tariffs (FITs). Target market those grid constrained or with a high connection cost. $pound 20m local energy challenge was funded from fossil fuel levy on top of $5m for CARES led to 9 projects about to be funded. Trying to think big and fund the most impactful projects – not all will succeed. Why? By decentralising, Scotland can see its distributed resources. 3 pillars: whole of system approach, localisation and decarbonisation. Jennifer seconded part time to Scottish Govt useful policy development link. Shift from revenue generating to integrated project in response to community needs. Best practice for working with communities, resources for communities on the website. Worth looking at Fife Council and Aberdeen – transition from old mining and industry, Levenmouth in Fife has a range of fantastic showcases, bright green hydrogen toshiba partnership and low carbon investment park.
https://www.eng.ed.ac.uk/about/people/dr-mark-winskel energy policy researcher
http://www.ed.ac.uk/global-environment-society/communities/steering-committee/nigel-goddard energy data and demand researcher
http://www.comas.org.uk/tower-power low income project to access cheaper power for residents of an apartment block. Aggregated, community owned, energy efficiency and demand management
The Katie Morag books really capture the closeness of these island communities, their self-sufficiency and relationships. Katie Morag and the New Pier grapples with the economic disruption that Granny Island feels when the economy becomes more closely linked to mainland life.
Lucy described the seasonal pattern of tourist focused busyness in summer followed by the sheer volume of work that the community does for itself in winter (over 40 committees!). Eddie explains that they may have overcooked the maintenance on the system but that directly equates to work on the island (essential for sustaining the local economy) and experts have commented that the battery lifetime could be twice as long under the careful operating regime in place. Maggie told me the history of the battle for ownership of the island, the support they got from outsiders including NGO’s and professionals and the ongoing management of island needs. Many island buildings needed work and they have invested in energy efficiency and suitable housing for older residents. There is a tension between affordability and proper pricing and they have only recently put rents up after a formal review. One flow of funds onto the island comes from Government jobs – teacher, nurse and from service level agreements to deliver road maintenance and waste management locally. The school only has a few pupils but that sustains a teacher position etc. Calmac won the tender for ferry services, residents association important in managing ferry relationship. Ian’s position has (on and off) been focused on attracting government grants and he was instrumental in getting the energy system funded and recognised, particularly through winning the Big Green Challenge. Another local with a technical background played a really important role in project management and ensuring the system got built well. He rubbed a few contractors up the wrong way as he did so – the benefit of being a newcomer to the island himself was that he didn’t need to keep everyone happy. One islander is connected to many of the larger islands governance systems and was at a conference in Greece when I visited. From little things big things grow.
I wasn’t alone visiting the Isle of Eigg. Fraser and Nick have installed renewable energy developments across the highlands and had come to understand the operating parameters of the plant. Islanders patiently spent time with all of us, highlighting the welcome, reputation building, story telling costs which we hope lead to longer term economic and community benefits.
Community shares is a legal model with light handed financial regulation. Investors receive a dividend but it is often small, capital is not particularly liquid. The investment creates a fund dedicated to community purposes. We heard from two great startups. A Go-Kart track with its genesis in helping disadvantaged youth and a Whisky distillery to benefit the economically depressed region of Dingwall. Advice: clarity of purpose, be a small giant, focus on outcomes not outputs, measure outcomes, test charity model first, hard nosed financial planning, plan to death – 1,2,5,10yrs & Blue sky, access ideas to make money, be hard nosed again, persevere, resilience, stamina.
Brian’s social enterprise incubator has a property investment that helps fund and house the company – itself a social enterprise. It is worth challenging the community shares model. A number of projects have been straightforward renewable energy investments that generate a fund for a community. Managing the fund seems to attract different types in the community (the managers rather than the doers, the power seekers rather than the collaborators?) and can cause much of the organising and fundraising to dry up – morning teas etc. are a form of community capital/social capital raising.
I was welcomed at Findhorn even though I arrived unannounced. And community members spent time explaining some of the smart grid experiment they had been involved in. The community is like an enormous co-working space. Part of the Global Ecovillage Network Europe. Has its own currency – Ekos. Slightly removed from normal life, an intentional group make their own contributions to sustainable living and caring communities. There is a group that have moved to exporting technologies and are experimenting with ultra-green housing, water, energy etc. Everyone comes to the community building for morning tea and lunch in a deep commitment to living and working together. The spiritual element is not for all and I was asked if I ‘had to hold hands’ when I returned to Inverness. Great story about finding common ground with military neighbours, seeing national security as world peace.
After world war II the Scottish highlands were like the third world and people were leaking rapidly to the better served cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh. It was a policy decision to avoid the return to wilderness and support northern communities with infrastructure and industry. The energy resources – Hydro power, North Sea oil and gas, are very much part of the highlands economic development which is now becoming a story of wind power and hopefully innovative use of wave, tidal and storage options. The strategy for wave/tidal seeks to duplicate what the Danes achieved for wind power in the 90’s – a time when Scotland failed to support its emergent wind industry. Calum has been on the Scottish Energy Advisory Board which has helped build high level relationships across the energy sector and provide a direct line to the First Minister. HIE, inverness is housed in a new facility, intended to support the clustering of innovative companies on the new university campus. Wave energy Scotland is a subsidiary of HIE.
CES sits comfortably between government and communities. CES is regularly engaged in government and energy system policy discussions. It delivers practical outcomes to communities as well as representing them, supporting the network and communicating the latest opportunities as market and regulatory settings change. Originally part of HIE, they now operate as a charity. CES manages funding, much from Government, as a partner and institution best positioned to deliver community energy programs and projects in many regional communities. Linking people to their energy, expanding the understanding of community energy and local economies.
 https://probonoaustralia.com.au/news/2015/08/community-shares-funding-social-enterprise/ gives an Australian perspective which needs to be updated to include the latest federal regulation in this space.
Orkney Islands ^
On the Orkney islands are purpose-built wave and tidal energy test facilities, research and consultancy services. The islands host a wealth of engineering capacity and skills and the opportunity to exploit a niche area of renewable energy development, based on the unique location with significant tidal/wave resources. The Orkney islands have the most community energy projects per capita, suggesting that islanders have been quick to exploit energy opportunities. The islands are almost another country and were annexed to Norway in the recent past. There are 5,000 year old settlements, and stone circles pre-dating stonehenge. This was an amazing opportunity to reflect on the role of place in shaping its people and the commitment to place as locals build new economies in the modern era. Stone circles are a feature of a community with abundance because the enormous manpower needed is supported by the whole community. Climate produced this abundance in the past (a warmer time with fertile land and ease of access via boats). 3,000 years ago when the climate grew colder and the ridges were no longer productive land the settlements became fortresses and each community protected its assets from its neighbours.
Marc, Victoria and Frank are all academics linked to the Sustainable Consumption Institute at the University of Manchester. Marc encouraged me to include Manchester in my Fellowship and to experience the world of community energy as practiced in the city context with an extensive network of activists and community development folk. I’m very grateful. He is writing his Phd on the Australian coal industry and we talked about climate change policies and politics over the past 25 years. Insights into the distance between Manchester commitments and program delivery intertwined with the democratic (or not) circumstances of local governance. Frameworks with which to understand systems changes: I like the socio-technical transitions work for identifying the 40+yr timeframe and the role of innovation and paradigm shift. Others to research include: Dialectic Issue Lifecycle, Advocacy Coalition Framework, New Institutional Theory, Power dynamics, arms race with corporates who fund astroturf groups, corporate funding of legislation through ALEC. Marc is continually asking why we should believe if anything will be different this time given that we have advocated for changes for such a long time. #staywoke.an example of how to ride out the pulses of social concern. Change requires a near death experience, concern levels are higher after a crisis.
Frank compared Germany and UK energy transitions and has provided me with papers on the German/UK energy transition comparison, hype/disappointment-cycles and the resistance to change. It took the German politics of the red-green coalition to disrupt the closed coalition between the government and the utilities. When you compare the UK, the culture of working with incumbents vs unleashing new entrants has created significant differences. In Germany only 5% of new renewables is owned by utilities.UK waited for climate change concern to register in the polls before acting – in 2007 Hurricane Katrina helped the formation of the CC Act in 2008 but the financial crisis then deflected attention. The politicians now can’t keep ahead of the public. Large Technical Systems is a specific area of study and to be compared with the modularity of IT. Accelerated diffusion as price drops and performance of RE technologies increase, brings in new voices, more powerful players. Vision has performative power and supports a ‘discourse coalition’ who believe its possible and help make it possible. The decline of the ‘public’ after WWII when much of our infrastructure was planned – freedom and autonomy narrative of the 70’s (hippies) and 80’s(neo-liberal) but now sensing a shift back to interventionist.
Victoria has been a policy maker in think tanks such as the New Economics Foundation. She is currently looking at the Austrian energy transition. One of the successful advocates for a feed-in tariff to support large scale combined heat and power (CHP) has been the Chamber of Forestry. In other words, an institution of this nature has the ability to drive policy, once it has done the work to understand the impact of new opportunities and to build understanding within its membership. On the back of its biomass opportunities, Austria has expanded education and training etc. Intermediaries can play many different roles. Scale is also important, Scotland works because it has more powerful local authorities.
A town that once supported three major mills driven by the water coming off the peak district has now renovated one of it’s weirs to produce hydro electricity. The Archimedes screw, named Archie, is relatively small at 63kW, was the first community owned hydro in the UK in 2008 when it started and regularly reports its performance to its community. 63kW wow – how important was energy at the beginning of the industrial revolution when these small amounts of energy built whole towns and economies. Fossil fuel was such a boost by providing access to a quantum leap of energy.
other Manchester links ^
Friends of the Earth appear at the heart of campaigns and practical projects repeatedly throughout my journey. In Manchester the group hosts a hub of different projects and Ali squeezed me in before a larger community meeting. We talked through the past two years of working with government to try and get community energy happening. Firstly looking at the Airport dividend as a source of funds for greening the city and the possibility of establishing a revolving fund. FOE were stymied by government officers blocking the process and changes to the market rules which disrupted projects. A key issue is whether government officers can and should relinquish control (which may require a culture change inside govt) also a misjudgement of officer ability to influence the process – undermined once decisions go to senior levels and politicians. Salford council ended up hosting the first project instead. At the moment Manchester’s mayor is appointed not elected. Political commitments fall short on implementation.
I didn’t get to meet Jonathan which is a huge shame. He is running some of the most interesting community and low income projects and obviously helps convene much of the network, having just run a full day workshop on ‘Hacking the energy system’, bringing together innovators and communities to understand energy system opportunities and to launch the new Nobel Grid partnership. (digging deep on providing community benefits from smart grid technologies – fantastic!)
 Including Flor Avelino’s work on shifting power relations in sustainability transitions: A multi-actor perspective. https://www.drift.eur.nl/?p=2720 and Kevin Anderson’s work at the Tyndall Centre. EG: http://www.tyndall.ac.uk/research/cities-and-coasts/resnet
Bristol is a wonderful progressive and experimental city. It gets the award for most welcoming – I arranged a day full of meetings with 24hrs notice. The buses take the Bristol pound and when I was trying to get a ride home, no one could help me because they had all arrived by bicycle!!
Bristol Council has an energy focus across four areas – community energy, fuel poverty, investment (such as solar panels for libraries/schools) and infrastructure (heat networks, social housing, biomass?). The fund was started with seed-funding from DECC (£1m, looking for a social return on investment) and offers grants and loans. Uses Bristol Energy Network to provide engagement. A team of permanent staff within Council, rather than consultants- increases capacity. Embedded in Bristol’s ambitions to be green (Europe’s Green Capital 2015). Proud of its partnership with the Bristol Energy Coop.Involved in Western Power battery trial – innovation project to combine solar, batteries and tariffs for a better deal, also to deal with constrained network. Also mentioned these guys:
I met Andy of BEC at the BEN meeting. BEC have raised £10m and are investing in numerous large scale renewable energy projects. Much of the funding is through a share offer and £4m also came from a partnership of Triodos Bank, Social & Sustainable Capital and Bristol City Council. This energy movement involves many professionals with an interest in using their skills for sustainability – a new form of activism.
BEN is located in ‘Happy City’ a co-working area in Bristol with a focus on groups that are creating a better world. BEN is not a network of businesses but rather reaches broadly across the community sector. They welcomed me to one of their meetings, a get together in suburbia – deliberately chosen to support the group that had recently turned an excess council building into a community centre. The format was super – a timed, one minute news item from anyone who needed to share (much of it upcoming events, engagements) and a series of talks as different groups explained their work in more detail – ranging from community building, long term planning engagement on development and activism against a new gas fired ‘booster’ power station.
The Centre for Alternative Technology in Wales is famous as a practical showcase of alternative energy since the 70’s. I was delighted to discover that the Centre for Sustainable Energy, started at around the same time considers itself a sister organisation – city based folk also trying to do practical projects. It is now embedded in the energy landscape of Bristol and the wider UK, running programs, providing policy research and consultancy. My talk with Simon ranged over wide territory – another person holding the corporate memory for decades of climate change policy work. The cultural differences – the UK treating citizens differently from consumers – Big Society follows from Big Business vs the German culture with community banks, Eon splitting its fossil fuel business from its renewables, or the French principles of fraternite, egalite etc. The importance of principles, collaboration, fairness. The challenges of running an NGO where too often the things that get done relate to where you find the money. The importance of chasing windows of opportunity.
Bristol has recently established its own municipal owned energy company. They will eventually be able to serve customers throughout the UK and they will move into the market competing on an level playing field with private retailers. Aiming to meet a profit mark by 17/18. This is well cashed up compared to community-led attempts. It is promoted as a force for social good and very focused on dlivering profits with a purpose. Time will tell if Bristol Energy can outdo the traditional companies in offering price, choice and innovative products. An energy system can deliver much more benefit to customers when focused on doing so. Bristol Energy needs to ensure it is fair to all residents and is committed to transparency on green products to ensure there is no double counting. It will also need to be creative with the regions network constraints – a challenge and an opportunity.
Wadebridge is a typical market town and sees that as an asset because others can emulate it easily – can’t be too special. WREN started as a movement to improve the town’s fuel poverty and employment opportunities by capturing a slice of the energy economy – the town spends £13m per year if you include petrol. I drove through some very early wind farms on my way – the region has been doing renewable energy for a long while. WREN are focused on a 100kW solar array at the SW sewerage treatment plant, they don’t own any wind. Have done all the difficult work of project startup and negotiations. They used to run an energy advice bureau in the centre of town and the town has 10%? Solar rooftops. WREN have done much early influencing for RE projects and have used a finders fee and installer deals to help fund the group. WREN administers 3 community energy funds that come from larger RE developments. Convenes the community and helps with decisions about how to spend the money each year (50k + 10k + 10k). WREN is structured as an industrial & providence society with around 1100 members. Each policy needs a policy narrative. The sunshine tariff trial was a WREN initiative to stop the constraints on solar. The project has poor uptake and has been squeezed into timelines that don’t suit a better outcome, poor involvement or support from Council. The idea is to combine smart control and tariffs to use surplus solar power when it is available. Regen SW have been very supportive in getting the trial running and they provide services to community energy groups across the SW.
TRESOC invested an awful lot of effort in developing a wind turbine project from scratch, taking it through planning and approvals and seeking crowdfunding to pay for it but ultimately weren’t successful. They have been more so with behind the meter solar projects and the renovation of the weir to produce hydro electricity. The policy settings for climate change and renewable energy supported onshore wind and biofuels – ultimately biofuel policy ended up with a monopoly. Government policy is no longer on track. Has been difficult to find an arrangement with the high efficiency Atmos housing development that might work.
A large group of active citizens are involved in community projects all over Totnes. The Transition Town Network started and is operated from here. I didn’t get to interview anyone but was invited to a housing and energy efficiency meeting. Visitors are so frequent that the group run monthly tours and an enterprising operator does personalised tours and training. The community meeting highlighted the tensions of land ownership in the UK. The whole place is owned by the Duke of Somerset (pretty much) and there is a perpetual tension where historic sites such as the Dartington Hall Trust have no money and need planning permission to keep expensive assets solvent. In the Scottish highlands I had found myself reading about the ‘clearances’ and acts to protect people’s livelihoods such as crofting so it was ironic to be hearing about the move by landlords and big money to develop and populate the South West and the need of everyone who actually lives there to band together and insist on standards around sustainability, protection of local economies and livelihoods.
Adrian’s group study transitions and particularly grassroots (community-led) changes, documenting the learning and inspiration that occurs across groups, the belief systems and the definitions around who transition is for. Try to keep the politics out as look along axis – inside to outside the system, technical local projects to movements about social values. Looking at the ability to build skills in citizenry, cultivating the pioneering and understanding the social returns. (see postcards) Build social legitimacy, networks, intermediating – who holds the memory? Plus community lacks resources – tables at conferences filled with energy companies. Must thank the far-sighted people ‘with lousy timing’ who’ve advocated for the future vision for such a long time. Civic pride at stake – comment on Brighton’s leadership. Mindsets: tech solutions need to be more profound, keep principles for sustainable development centre stage. Local government was invented to build infrastructure? Instituions are hard work – how to be more dynamic over time – champions within exist but can’t take it all the way through. Pioneer investors in Brighton 2010 played strong role in influencing and being trusted.
Historically we had community development officers. Community energy direct is a model using grassroots to aggregate for energy purchasing. Entrepreneurial efforts can become ‘new enclosures’. Place based vs interest based communities. Spaces for citizenry – eg community workshops for socially useful production, met with hostility from mgmt., govt & trade union hierarchy. Thatcher shut down spaces and institutions. Solutionism can reduce the necessary spaces for citizenry. (as an aside: Research can be quite parasitical – time and energy)
Brighton Energy is a ‘Bencom’ – a community benefit society, which is distinguished from a cooperative. It was originally formed with crowdfunding, appealing to those without suitable rooves for solar power to be able to own solar somewhere else. Funding could be £300 – 3,000 and seeks to pay 5% interest on shares (+ tax break). Coops UK ran a mentoring scheme, Brighton paired with Brent Pure Energy., got probono help with setting up the legal instruments. 800kW, fixed feed-in – typically return 13.5%. – 5% paid as dividend, 5% repay capital and 3.5% used for running the organisation. Brighton Council has lots of ambition, harder to deal with.
Inspired by visible projects of pioneers 15 years ago, like Westmill wind farm which was finally built in 2008 (Westmill hope to be a beacon), OVESCO is already 7 years old. Lewes was the first transition town after Totnes. Won the tender to run the grants scheme, renewable energy & insulation. Community energy is like Promethyus – steal the light and give it to the people. Howard is a key figure with a superhuman capacity for doing. He has just written Energy Revolution and when he was helping get OVESCO through their first big project he was also running his business, Southern Solar and chairing the Solar Trade association, the latter was quite successful in relationship building and influencing policy. He is now Chair of 10:10. Howard is an admirer of the strength of the German public and the leadership of Hans Josef Fell and Herman Scheer. Also the Danish Energy Guilds and the emphasis on fairness in Denmark. He interviewed Fell in his book and he talks about finding the chink in the battlelines. Good ideas do travel (that’s behind the purpose of the book). You can create a pool of engaged people including your shareholders, take the view that is will be done to you or with your participation. Markets are fast – tell them about the new story, give the community the language, financial skills and tools/structures so that the corporates don’t run roughshod over the energy transition.
Jeff has been driving some really interesting energy futures work inside OFGEM and is now taking time out to take a more academic perspective and push the boundaries on scenarios such as the peer to peer sharing economy version of energy systems 2050, with third party control (major challenge for the system, how to relinquish control??). He has a bigger context too – looking at low carbon transitions where electricity systems are a small subset. We talked about the role in OFGEM, 2.5 years to learn the system as a newbie to electricity regulation and culture. Horizon scanning looking at a society led low carbon transformation, much of energy policy is too technocratic. Constraints on the powers that be. Backcasting exercise – resource mapping and carbon budget, local balancing, local price signals and arbitrage between services (eg water). What does the pathway to such a future look like? Third party control of energy systems throws up very interesting questions about how democratic decisions are. Principles of including future consumers incorporated into OFGEM decision making.
OFGEM is the UK electricity and gas regulator. The Australian system was based on many aspects of UK market design. Community energy has been a socio-cultural investment, schemes delivered 4 things, energy management, generation, fuel poverty and collective purchasing. No prescribed social leadership form, often retired engineers, social entrepreneurs – an anchor person or organisation. Delegation of energy functions but money buys control. Energy policy needs to be flexible and smart. Challenge to level the playing field vs providing preferential treatment. How do you create value? OFGEM looking at licence lite for distributed generators, else they drown in submissions. And also a more helpful doorway for innovators approaching with new tech. Further links: Competition and Market report and researcher Rebecca Willis.
Tempus partnered with WREN to test the sunshine tariff idea. They are a startup with a focus on demand management opportunities and using technology and well designed tariffs to offer consumers savings. Control stays with the customer and offer an incentive to turn off.
I missed the opportunity to visit Woking but have listened to Allan Jones, heard about his progress in London and then Sydney, agreed with some of his ideas about making the market work better for distributed energy. Thus, I was delighted to see that the work in Woking continues.
Victoria Johnson recommended NEF as a champion for local economies providing energy literacy training and supporting local champions/entrepreneurs – eg in Haringey Council. I didn’t get to meet NEF staff but am enjoying their newsfeed and policy work. It is always a good sign when energy is incorporated into the thinking of something bigger.
I recommend you tune into Jeremy Leggett’s blog if you want a perspective on energy and carbon transitions from someone who has been close to this subject for a long time – and finally sees that we are making headway.
 This paper suggests Bristol was particularly effective in securing community energy funding in 2012: research-information.bristol.ac.uk /en/publications/maintaining-momentum-in-bristol-community-energy-project-report-june-2013(aca17dba-ac80-4268-a775-a803fe2e18ac).html
 10 benefits of community energy: https://grassrootsinnovations.org/2014/05/14/postcards/
My appreciation of Japanese community energy was somewhat limited by the language barriers and the strangeness of the cultural differences. In the context of a collective culture, respect for authority and strong governing and control by governments, it was hard to understand how the innovations and anti-nuclear movement thrives and is supported. When I asked about climate change, it doesn’t seem to feature highly – this is a country with many vulnerabilities, climate change is just one.
Dr Fujii co-wrote the paper on 100% renewable energy for Hokkaido. His studies look at environmental issues for the region including food security/self-sufficiency and energy (Hokkaido produces 200% of its food needs, Australia 400%, Japan 40%). A focus on all regions in the ring of fire and their unique vulnerabilities. Also raised the possibility of climate change opening shipping routes to northern Europe and strategic relations with Norway (who are critical of Chinese policies – so good for Japanese partnerships) Hokkaido repositioning itself for regional food, declining agricultural economy, loss of population into Sapporo and on toward Tokyo. Failing to maintain forestry skills for example. Energy provides another opportunity for local jobs. Industry think nuclear is cheaper and HEPCO want to restart its nuclear power stations but government cannot sign the papers. Minister of Environment overridden by industry to build new coal plant – Japanese industry want to sell coal tech to China. Tokyo policies often not suitable for Hokkaido climate – eg energy efficiency. Shimokawa biomass attracted good funding, willow coppicing.
Professor Ayukawa advocates for distributed energy systems. She gave me an insight into the changes politically during the tsunami disaster which created the opportunity for feed-in tariffs and proactive renewable energy policies. To some extent the Democrats were not supported by the bureaucracy in their ambitions and the companies got to say how much renewable energy each region would accept. Now the feed-in has gone. No nuclear since the disaster and Japan has successfully reduced its demand by 15%. A recent nuclear re-start was stopped by the neighbouring province who argued that they are downwind in case of a disaster. The prefectures are missing the money they made from the nuclear powerstations located within them. The nuclear village of industry and banks have captured politicians and media and keep much control. There is a group of Mayors who are very pro-renewables. Nagano prefecture is very active. Some have enough $$ and good bureaucrats. Yokohama with Tokyo started a form of emissions trading to encourage high efficiency buildings because standards are generally very poor. Miyama in Kyushu – great example of smart grid approach. Shizuoka, Hamamatsu city looking at cogeneration and hybrid solutions to flourish the local economy. Aging population, soon there will be 3-4 older people for every young one.
Japan was ‘colonised’ after the war and their nuclear policy stems from having weapons capability for the US in this part of the world. Energy security has always been a huge vulnerability – only $% energy independence. Highest deficit in the world at 8-10% of GDP. The big market >50kW was deregulated in 2004 but the rest only in April 2016, looking to see unbundling by 2020. Options for the future might include hydrogen imported from Aust. Part of the Olympics showcase will be EVs and fuel cell vehicles.
In 2008 the FOE big ask was climate change regulation which led to the “Make the Rule” campaign. Coordinating the network of environmental NGOs. After Fukushima the Democrats ran a process to ‘listen to the voice of the citizens’ for the first time in energy policy making. Zero nuclear by 2030. 89,000 comments 86% in favour of nuclear zero, 78% immediate shutdown. Kagoshima governor wanted to restart but new governor won the vote on an anti-nuclear platform. Power shift campaign aims to empower the community (by promoting community energy and green power opportunities) and comment of government policy. There are 300 new utilities after liberalisation so focus on offering a guide to recognising good suppliers: transparency about where energy is sourced from; mostly renewables; not nuclear or coal; focus on community and local not just mega-solar; not related to TEPCO. 16 utilities to start with, mixture of municipal, regional, coops and renewable installers. Met with everyone to ensure there is shared values and commitment to low carbon. Power shift gets a referral fee? Push the good utilities to hear the citizen voice. Larger utilities are represented in policy making by industry body. Contradictory policy, 48 new plans for coal fired power stations. Voluntary target by electricity industry of 0.37kg Co2/kWh extends the life of nuclear in the mix.
ISEP has famously introduced suitable business models to community energy projects that seem to strike the right balance between commerciality and project governance and community ownership and values. In 2005 renewable energy was very expensive and immature. Community wind goes back to 2001. Many institutional barriers. Municipalities can take a year to grant permission, you need a 20 year permit for a bank loan, small but crucial issues. The FIT meant everyone could participate. An active municipality needs political will and a strong team. Seminars and workshops help identify community champions. Hokkaido Green Fund has 300 members, the investment is better than bank savings. Community groups have two poles, activists and profit oriented business people, the activists can often be too passionate. Renewable energy can take local economies beyond agricultural economy and support community activation and improved well being. Helps with branding too – eg the farmers apples from renewable energy. Local communities need new capacity to grab ideas. Visit once a month is too intensive. Envirnment ministry is funding 10mYen per year to fund community activities. Japan could reach 100% renewable energy, it has the resources, flexibility is possible but wheeling costs would need to be paid by electricity suppliers and consumer advocates ask ministry of economy – tension between it and ministry for environment.
Mika took me through an excellent slideshow with telling Japanese statistics. The new normal on peak demand after the nuclear capacity had been suddenly removed – a 15-20% permanent drop. Have the NGOs focused too much on international climate negotiations rather than having the conversation with the Japanese community? Strong focus on adaptation and resilience because the country’s vulnerabilities are clear. Large range of climate zones for energy efficiency but Japanese aren’t aware how much they are falling behind other countries – Korea and China particularly Korean minimum standard equal to Japan’s voluntary standard. A level of arrogance and lack of media. Ministry for Economy and Utilities (METI) had been trying to introduce unbundling but utilities have been too strong
Disaster resilience policy might be where we see the real climate change action emerging. Worth looking at the national resilience plan and the national spatial strategy. Neighbourhood groups practice regularly and on the anniversary of the disaster but only 30% might have a bag near the door. Likely that the conservative government and Abe will be in power for 3 more years and therefore energy reforms and climate policy is not overt. Technocrats inside the bureaucracy are pragmatic and slow the excesses of politicians. Geothermal opportunities have been resisted by the Onsen (hot springs) industry. Stern highlights massive infrastructure investment needed and the need to be flexible in planning. Champions? Policy entrepreneurs? City planning and property taxes; aims of revitalising local communities, bolster local govt finance, disaster resilience and energy independence. Smart energy management could deliver 40% reductions. Local banks desperate to survive but business risk in order to invest in coops. City involvement becomes the locus of expertise, capabilities and Local government creditworthiness. Transitory dominance of market-led society and regulatory capture. A role for private actors, lead through the deployment of critical infrastructure, citizen trust – big companies are not the community = new growth paradigm.
Ms Mizuno has been managing a micro-grid project aimed at showcasing resilience and energy security. The housing development is for people who lost their homes in the disaster. The grid combines solar, a backup generator based on biofuels, battery storage and microgrid controls. The tenants are pleased at the opportunity to become a safe hub for the broader community in times of need. In typical Japanese fashion this feels like a well funded project, technocratic with a lack of pathway to broader industry or municipal adoption.
Mishima and Fujisawa ^
In Mishima I looked at a local mega-solar plants that had popped up on a local farmers land and Rob explained some of the nuance of agricultural policy that keeps land being used for traditional purposes such as small scale rice growing. When he bought his new home they looked carefully at the economics of solar and batteries which were sold as a package to help make the whole home affordable.
I made a short visit to FUJISAWA SMART SUSTAINABLE TOWN and was offered a tour of one of the houses by a local. Nest door was KANAGAWA ECO HOUSE so I took the opportunity to admire a wooden eco-house with all the earthquake safety standards in beautiful materials and thoughtful energy design.
After the disaster the prefecture was in chaos policy-wise for a year or so. Mr Sato asked Mr Iida from ISEP to support the startup and between them developed the first non-profit AIPower. Now own 2.5MW with support funding and loans from Ministry of Environment green finance, banks and citizen fund. 500 smallish ground mounted projects. Conservative and business oriented leaders – local traditional and patriotic. I was very impressed by Mr Sato. He comes across as someone who makes things happen. You can imagine him single-handedly twisting every local bankers arm and others in the business community for support. He is a venerated Sake brewer and very committed to his local community. 9 generations over the last 240 years in the region. His mind is on the next generation, rich fertile land and economy, not radioactive land. The nuclear disaster was a wake up call for him. Saw that safe nuclear is a false idea and we need to rely on other solutions. He now spends 80% of his time on the AIPower business. Electricity, water and food should not be dominated by companies, they are commons!. AI power is structured with a community company, shareholders all over Japan who do not expect a return and a profitable project company that repays the loans and uses profits to continue to develop projects. Local banks are key because they are supported by local people. We sat in a beautiful new training centre and education facility, overlooking the solar array which is on higher ground above the rice paddies. Seeking to maximise the local benefits of what they are building. The Fukushima 100% Renewable Fund has been set up to commemorate the electricity rebels award received from Schonau. It has 3 purposes – support all renewable energy, provide funding for children affected by the disaster and create an archive to tell the anti-nuclear story.
A bright shiny research facility. Not everyone wanted to work here – particularly researchers with young children would have turned down offers. Renewables only cheaper than domestic energy, needs to drop in price still. Storage is an important component, batteries limited to fast response. Looking at the role of syngas from brown coal. Japan could have >20GW of pumped hydro capacity, would be reluctant to develop but might be forced to use it. Hydrogen based research, round trip efficiency not good (<70%) but not much decay so good for disasters, remote islands and interseasonal storage. Baseline determined by nuclear traditionally, nuclear crowds out renewables if it comes back online. Govt reform is very slow. Japan has not so much gas – FREA is presenting options for the future and some demonstrations. Govt is saying renewable energy is important, for Japan, for new markets and new industries.
I am indebted to Mr Nishida for the time and effort he spent in coming up to Kitakata with me, for interpreting my meeting with Mr. Sato and for providing new insights into Japanese culture.
Other Japanese links ^
www.japanfs.org Japan for Sustainability – News service in English
http://www.nedo.go.jp/english/index.html New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organisation
Well done for making it this far and thanks for your interest. Just a reminder, my full report and summary is available on the Churchill website and here. The Overview page provides a series of summaries for different audiences.