Community Innovation in Sustainable Energy

Lead Research Organisation: University of Sussex
Department Name: Sch of Business Management & Economics

Abstract

Community-led sustainable energy projects are flourishing in the UK. Community projects involve local groups developing low carbon energy solutions appropriate to local situations, and with community groups having ownership over outcomes. Examples include solar water heating clubs, or insulation clubs, which provide mutual support for system installation; energy awareness and behaviour networks, which provide guidance and reassurance to neighbours on energy matters relevant to them; and co-operatively-owned small-scale renewable energy systems, such as micro-hydro and wind. The Government's Low Carbon Community Challenge joins a portfolio of policies helping innovative community projects. It is argued these will nurture local support for wider processes of low carbon energy transition. Intermediary organizations, such as local and national energy agencies, span local groups through their technical advice, and helping new community projects access resources and networks. If renewed policy interest is to lead to effective institutional support, then evidence is needed about community diffusion processes, performance, and interaction with mainstream energy systems. Independent academic analysis struggles to keep pace with the extent of innovation or to document the diversity of community activity involved. Little is known about the conditions under which community-led innovations do or do not diffuse. The processes by which similar projects replicate in different communities remain unclear. Opportunities for scaling-up projects so that follow-on projects benefit wider sets of local community are similarly obscure. And the possibilities that community-led innovations may provide adaptable and appropriable sustainability solutions that can be translated into mainstream energy market settings has yet to be seriously considered. Our aim is to analyse community energy in order to understand its diffusion and explain its potential in wider energy transitions. We divide community energy into three broad fields - community renewable, community demand reduction, and community awareness-raising/behaviour-support. We wish to see whether diffusion over the last ten years in each field is leading to the development of standard community models that replicate more readily, can be scaled-up, or can be translated into mainstream business settings.We will meet this aim through an engaged research approach that will deliver on four specific objectives: 1. Analyse how diverse community-led projects diffuse through processes of replication, scaling-up, and translation; 2. Evaluate the performance of local community energy projects and assess their potential in wider low carbon transition processes (using UK Foresight scenarios); 3. Provide critical reflection and empirically-backed recommendations for national policy-makers and key energy companies on how to support community approaches to everyone's mutual benefit; 4. Develop and advance innovation theory appropriate to community-led sustainable energy. A web-based survey will be complemented with in-depth case studies. Interviews with community energy intermediaries, policy-makers and businesses will complement a content analysis of 'best practice' reports. Stakeholder workshops will develop four UK Foresight scenarios for community involvement in energy and the built environment in the future, and their contribution to different low carbon transition pathways. Final analysis and synthesis will lead to clear recommendations for policy. Our proposal contributes to the EPSRC-EdF call on the social and economic sciences of People, Energy and Buildings by: a) explaining how local communities intervene in energy systems; b) quantifying their role in the diffusion of energy efficient technologies and local renewable energy; and c) assessing how community energy projects could contribute to UK energy systems under a range of future scenarios.

Planned Impact

The impacts we anticipate from this project fall into four main categories (instrumental, conceptual, mobilisation and wider impacts), outlined below. We envisage three key audiences for the findings of this project: the academic community, energy practitioners, and policymakers. Our communication, engagement and dissemination plans are described in the Academic Beneficiaries section and the Impact Plan, respectively. Here we summarise the expected impacts of those combined activities. Instrumental impacts The research will generate evidence-based policy recommendations to enable policymakers to better support and harness the energies and solutions emerging from community-led innovations for sustainability. This will be framed in such a way as to inform the development of indicators, and contribute to improved policy-effectiveness, particularly around community engagement and behaviour change, and will enable the UK to better achieve its sustainability and climate change policy goals. We have already received positive feedback from DECC, CDF, NESTA and other bodies on the timeliness and necessity of this work. Indeed, a result of these conversations, in some cases, has already been to connect policy-makers and advocates to one another. In addition, the stakeholder engagement with practitioners which is fundamental to this project will deliver concrete impacts for those participants and their wider networks in terms of learning and networking to share experiences and best practice, which will result in increased capacity and effectiveness at the grassroots. Conceptual impacts This is UK-based research but it is set within an international interdisciplinary literature. It will feed into international research networks, and make significant and timely theoretical contributions to knowledge and debates in three key bodies of literature: sustainable innovation studies, sustainable energy, and sustainable communities. Our contribution will be an advancement of strategic niche management innovation theory adapted to the new community-based site of innovation in systems of provision, and the generation of new empirical data which illuminate that theory. This will bring direct benefits to a number of related disciplines through the development of new theory to better understand social processes for sustainable development at the community level. Consequently, our research will improve understanding about a new and under-researched area of innovative activity, and will help to develop this new and emerging research agenda. Mobilisation impacts This project aims to foster new relationships between policymakers and practitioners of innovative community projects, in order to promote new thinking on both sides, about the role and potential of community innovations for sustainability. Our Advisory Panel will work closely with us to nurture these new connections, and they will be instrumental in achieving the mobilisation goals of the project, in particular through regular web-based updates, leading to the final stakeholder workshop. This event will be designed to bridge the policy divide between community action and innovation for sustainability, and raise the policy profile of community innovation. It is hoped that this in turn will result in increased mobilisation of resources, institutional support and policy recognition for community-led energy projects to help them to achieve their potential. Wider impacts The potential wider impacts of this research are of course difficult to predict, but we anticipate that by forging a new research agenda around community innovation in sustainable energy, and disseminating our findings widely among practitioners and policy circles, we can contribute to a new way of thinking about community-led innovations for sustainability which acknowledges the importance (and limits) of community action in innovation for sustainability.

Publications

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Adrian Smith (Author) (2013) Understanding transition-periphery dynamics: community energy in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland in Understanding transition-periphery dynamics: community energy in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland

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Adrian Smith (Author) (2011) Community Innovation in Sustainable Energy

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Adrian Smith (Author) (2012) Innovacion de base social

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Cohen, Maurie J.; Brown, Halina Szejnwald; Vergragt, Philip (2013) Innovations in Sustainable Consumption: New Economics, Socio-technical Transitions and Social Practices

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Hargreaves T (2013) Up, Down, round and round: Connecting Regimes and Practices in Innovation for Sustainability in Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space

 
Description We have discovered that community energy is a flourishing and significant aspect of developments for sustainable energy. Moreover, it is one example of grassroots innovation, in which networks of local communities, activists, researchers and others develop sustainable solutions from the bottom up. We have identified distinct learning processes, and the important work done by intermediary organisations in supporting and connecting community energy initiatives. Our research has informed government policy. However, we also found that community energy is a political act, about democratising energy services, as it is a tool for government policy. As such, critical knowledge as well as instrumental knowledge has to be acknowledged.
Exploitation Route They are being taken forwards: in subsequent projects by others; in government policies; by community energy intermediaries
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Energy,Environment

URL http://www.grassrootsinnovations.org
 
Description Our findings were cited in DECC's Community Energy Strategy launched in February 2014. As part of the development of the strategy we were invited to DECC to give a seminar and discuss our work. Our research has also featured in materials from civil society organisations and think tanks working on community energy. We helped with the organisation of an exhibition about community energy held in London and Cardiff in 2014. And we think that postcards summarising our research and sent to every MP in the UK has helped raise awareness of issues in this field of activity.
First Year Of Impact 2013
Sector Energy,Environment
Impact Types Societal

 
Description Accelerating Regional Transitions to Sustainability
Amount £2,500,000 (GBP)
Funding ID 603654 
Organisation European Commission 
Sector Public
Country European Union (EU)
Start 10/2013 
End 09/2016
 
Description Accelerating Regional Transitions to Sustainability
Amount £2,500,000 (GBP)
Funding ID 603654 
Organisation European Commission 
Sector Public
Country European Union (EU)
Start 10/2013 
End 09/2016
 
Description Sussex European Institute, Francois Duchene Travel Bursary
Amount £1,000 (GBP)
Organisation University of Sussex 
Department Sussex European Institute
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 12/2011 
End 12/2012
 
Description Sussex European Institute, Francois Duchene Travel Bursary
Amount £1,000 (GBP)
Organisation University of Sussex 
Department Sussex European Institute
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 12/2011 
End 12/2012
 
Description "Models of a zero carbon future" 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Primary Audience
Results and Impact Press: 09/2013, Mari Martiskainen, "Models of a zero carbon future", article for Zero Carbon Britain and Community Energy, Centre for Alternative Technology, http://www.zerocarbonbritain.org.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
URL http://www.zerocarbonbritain.org
 
Description A glimpse into grassroots climate action 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Primary Audience
Results and Impact Jin Park, A glimpse into grassroots climate action, January 2011, Research briefing 6, Grassroots Innovations for Sustainable Development, CSERGE/SPRU.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011
 
Description A thousand flowers blooming? 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Primary Audience
Results and Impact Tom Hargreaves, A thousand flowers blooming?, Winter 2010, Research briefing 5, Grassroots Innovations for Sustainable Development, CSERGE/SPRU.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011
 
Description A thousand flowers blooming? Growing Community energy for sustainable, low carbon futures 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Primary Audience
Results and Impact 09/12/2010, CISE Team, A thousand flowers blooming? Growing Community energy for sustainable, low carbon futures. Public debate and discussion, UEA-London.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2010
 
Description A thousand flowers blooming? Growing Community energy for sustainable, low carbon futures. 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Primary Audience
Results and Impact Public debate and discussion, UEA-London.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2010
 
Description Brook Lyndhurst: Learn more about each others activities 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Primary Audience
Results and Impact 06/04/2011, Adrian, Jin Park, Tom Hargreaves, Sabine Hielscher, Brook Lyndhurst: Learn more about each others activities.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011
 
Description Civil society engagement in alternative energy pathways 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Primary Audience Participants in your research or patient groups
Results and Impact Presentation to the ESRC Seminar Series on Critical Perspectives on Public Engagement in Science and Environmental Risk. Seminar four - Participation, Power and Sustainable Energy Futures, SPRU, University of Sussex, 26th October 2010.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2010
 
Description Community Energy Strategy consultation for DECC 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Primary Audience
Results and Impact Contribution to policy consultations: 28/07/2013, Sabine Hielscher & Adrian Smith, Community Energy Strategy consultation for DECC.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description Community Energy: Taking stock, moving forwards? 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Primary Audience
Results and Impact 08/03/2012, CISE Team, Community Energy: Taking stock, moving forwards?. Public debate and discussion, UEA-London.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
 
Description Community Innovation for Sustainable Energy 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Primary Audience
Results and Impact Presentation/Seminar to the Centre for Sustainable Communication, KTH Royal School of Technology Sweden. 17th June 2011.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011
 
Description Community energy scenarios 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Primary Audience
Results and Impact Jin Park, Community energy scenarios, October 2011, Research briefing 11, Grassroots Innovations for Sustainable Development, CSERGE/SPRU.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011
 
Description Community energy: Tacking stock, moving forward? 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Primary Audience
Results and Impact Tom Hargreaves, Community energy: Tacking stock, moving forward?, March 2012, Research briefing 12, Grassroots Innovations for Sustainable Development, CSERGE/SPRU.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
 
Description Community innovation for sustainable energy 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Primary Audience
Results and Impact Adrian Smith and Gill Seyfang, Community innovation for sustainable energy, July 2010, Research briefing 3, Grassroots Innovations for Sustainable Development, CSERGE/SPRU.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2010
 
Description Community innovation in sustainable energy 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Presentation at a meeting.

Energy Security in a Multipolar World Research Cluster Meeting.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2010
 
Description Community innovation in sustainable energy 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Primary Audience
Results and Impact Presentation to practitioners: 22/11/2013, Adrian Smith, Community innovation in sustainable energy, presentation to the Future of Community Energy HiDEF event.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description Discussion on energy investment, including role of demand side and community energy 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Primary Audience
Results and Impact Policy engagement: 09/11/2010, Jim Watson with Charles Hendry MP, DECC - Minister of State, Participation in round table discussion on energy investment, including role of demand side and community energy.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2010
 
Description Energy and Low Carbon Group, The Role of Households in the UK Low Carbon Future 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Primary Audience
Results and Impact Presentation to practitioners: 04/01/2011, Mari Martiskainen, West Sussex Environment and Climate Change Board 2010; Energy and Low Carbon Group, The Role of Households in the UK Low Carbon Future.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011
 
Description Exhibition about community energy, A Sense of Energy 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact We contributed an exhibit to an exhibition dedicated to community energy, and that was displayed in London and Cardiff. We worked with a designer to produce an object that captured some aspect of our research into the topic. In our case, we developed some wooden buildingblocks with the help of school children, and which each had a statement about what people contribute to a community energy project based on our research findings. Exhibition visitors were invited to build their own project from the blocks.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL https://grassrootsinnovations.org/2014/06/30/opening-of-the-a-sense-of-energy-exhibition/
 
Description Feed-in-Tariff consultation for DECC 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Primary Audience
Results and Impact Contribution to policy consultations: Jim Watson, Feed-in-Tariff consultation for DECC.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011
 
Description Grassroots Innovation website 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Primary Audience
Results and Impact Project website including briefings, blogs, etc.: http://grassrootsinnovations.org/category/projects/cise-community-innovation-in-sustainable-energy/.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2010
URL http://grassrootsinnovations.org/category/projects/cise-community-innovation-in-sustainable-energy/
 
Description Grassroots innovation. Presentation and classes to the STEPS PPhD Summer School, University of Sussex, 14 May 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Primary Audience
Results and Impact PPhD Summer School.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description Grassroots innovations for sustainable development 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Adrian Smith and Gill Seyfang, Grassroots innovations for sustainable development, May 2010, Research briefing 1, Grassroots Innovations for Sustainable Development, CSERGE/SPRU.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2010
 
Description Grassroots innovations, sustainable consumption and some dilemmas for niche-based approaches. 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Participants in your research or patient groups
Results and Impact Grassroots innovations, sustainable consumption and some dilemmas for niche-based approaches. Invited presentation to the CONSENTSUS workshop on sustainable consumption, Free University of Brussels.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011
 
Description Intermediaries and community energy policy 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Primary Audience
Results and Impact Jenn Monahan, Intermediaries and community energy policy, August 2013, Research briefing 20, Grassroots Innovations for Sustainable Development, CSERGE/SPRU.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description Intermediation in shifting policy contexts: Interviews with community energy actors 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Primary Audience
Results and Impact Sabine Hielscher, Intermediation in shifting policy contexts: Interviews with community energy actors, October 2011, Research briefing 10, Grassroots Innovations for Sustainable Development, CSERGE/SPRU.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011
 
Description Measuring community energy impacts 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Primary Audience
Results and Impact Jin Park, Measuring community energy impacts, May 2011, Research briefing 8, Grassroots Innovations for Sustainable Development, CSERGE/SPRU.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011
 
Description Movimientos de innovación de base 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Primary Audience
Results and Impact 19/ 02/ 2013 Adrian Smith, Movimientos de innovación de base, Evening talk to the Centro Social de Benimaclet, Valencia, Spain.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description Policy reform and community energy 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Primary Audience
Results and Impact Jim Watson, Policy reform and community energy, July 2013, Research briefing 19, Grassroots Innovations for Sustainable Development, CSERGE/SPRU.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description Public Scrutiny Panel 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Adrian Smith Chaired a Public Scrutiny into City-scale Renewable Energy on behalf of Brighton & Hove City Council.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2010
 
Description SWEA applies Innovation History approach to their Pathways project 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Primary Audience
Results and Impact 08/05/2012, Sabine Hielscher with Ruth Williams, SWEA: Interested in applying Innovation History approach for their Pathways project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
 
Description Savings through renewables - community energy pioneers in Finland 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Primary Audience
Results and Impact Press: 27/02/2012, Mari Martiskainen, The Heating and Hotwater Industry Council Journal March 2012, Savings through renewables - community energy pioneers in Finland.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
 
Description Seeing community climate action through the eyes of mainstream actors 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Primary Audience
Results and Impact Jin Park, Seeing community climate action through the eyes of mainstream actors, May 2011, Research briefing 7, Grassroots Innovations for Sustainable Development, CSERGE/SPRU.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011
 
Description Seminar using Mari Martiskainen's case studies and material 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Primary Audience
Results and Impact Mikko did a seminar to VISIO (Vihreän sivistys- ja opintokeskus = Green knowledge centre) in Helsinki and used Mari's material & cases as an example.

Mikko Rask from National Consumer Research Centre, Helsinki did a seminar to VISIO (Vihreän sivistys- ja opintokeskus = Green knowledge centre) in Helsinki and used Mari's material & cases as an example.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011
 
Description The Innovation of Community Energy Projects in Finland and the United Kingdom 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Primary Audience
Results and Impact Mari did a seminar for the National Consumer Research Centre research staff in Helsinki (in Finnish).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011
 
Description The Innovation of Community Energy Projects in Finland and the United Kingdom 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Primary Audience
Results and Impact 17th SPRU DPhil Day, SPRU, University of Sussex.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011
 
Description The community energy sector: finding from the 2011 survey 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Primary Audience
Results and Impact Jin Park, The community energy sector: finding from the 2011 survey, November 2012, Research briefing 16, Grassroots Innovations for Sustainable Development, CSERGE/SPRU.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011
 
Description Utility Week article "Do it their way" 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Primary Audience
Results and Impact Press: 24/05/2013, Mari Martiskainen, Utility Week article "Do it their way", http://www.utilityweek.co.uk/news/news_story.asp?id=198629&title=Do+it+their+way.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
URL http://www.utilityweek.co.uk/news/news_story.asp?id=198629&title=Do+it+their+way
 
Description What lessons get shared? Case studies of community energy 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Primary Audience
Results and Impact Tom Hargreaves, What lessons get shared? Case studies of community energy, September 2011, Research briefing 9, Grassroots Innovations for Sustainable Development, CSERGE/SPRU
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Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011