Getting Started: How-to Guide for Setting Up a Community Energy Group In London

Form a Group or Join a Group!

  • Come along to the monthly Community Energy London meetings at City Hall to meet other like-minded people, and to learn about what’s involved and if anything is going on in your area.
  • To find others to start a project with, look for environmental groups like Fossil Free campaigns, transition town groups, XR etc!
  • Familiarise yourself with what community energy is, including the workings and structures.
  • Start a public Facebook page (and other social media platforms if desired) and establish a way to communicate.

Choose One or More Areas of Focus

  • The two main areas for community energy groups are:
    • Generating renewable electricity or saving energy through installing energy efficient equipment at a community/charity/educational/public locations
    • Provide advice to local people on how to save money on utility bills (e.g. electricity, gas, water). Including which debt alleviation schemes may apply to them,
  • Groups in London work on either or both of these areas. If you are just getting started it is worth focusing on one first to get it off the ground!

Renewable Energy Generation and Energy Efficiency Projects

  • Community buildings with consistent usage throughout the day and year are best.
  • Check out Forum for the Future’s tool ‘Power Paired’ for identifying sites.
  • It is also worth getting in touch with your local council about this – other projects have been located on a range of different buildings, from schools, Universities, youth centres, GP surgeries, churches, mosques, social housing etc.
  • London projects tend to be either solar PV or energy efficiency (e.g. LED retrofits), but there are also of opportunities for:
    • Biomass – boilers or district heating
    • Heat pumps
    • Anaerobic digestion
  • For solar PV, identify buildings with unused roofs and check their rough solar power generation capacity.
  • To learn more about technologies which can be used for community energy project, check out these videos.
  • Get financial modelling advice (from expert friends, relatives, supporters, or pro bono from financial firms) and estimate potential income and costs for community energy projects
  • See CEL’s page on post-FiT financial model with significant resources created by Andre Pinho here.
  • Arrange to meet and ask questions to determine their interest and overall project feasibility:
    • Ownership
      • Who owns the grounds/building?
      • What does the roof/space lease situation look like?
      • Can the Energy Manager, Sustainability and Estates staff help you?
    • Energy Consumption
      • What is currently being paid for energy?
      • Can you get a copy of the energy bills and/or half hourly data to calculate future savings?
    • History and Plans for Future
      • Has this been tried before?
      • Are there any existing feasibility studies to build on?
      • Are there certain roofs unsuitable due to equipment up there, or access difficulties in the next few years?
  • Depending on the size of a project, you will need to complete enabling surveys or application to be able to deliver a project.
  • For example:
  • Solar installer companies for example might be able to provide a free desktop survey to get some initial insight into generation capacity.
  • Ideally it is best to secure two or three quotes from contractors.
  • Speak to the other community energy groups or reputable trade bodies to hear about quality installers.
  • Identify decision-making structures at the site and meet with individuals in management you need permission and support from Head of estates and governance board:
    • Ask through Energy Manager to meet up in order to pitch your idea (formally or informally)
    • Gauge the level of support
    • Identify crucial barriers early on e.g. land/building lease restrictions
  • Invite the local community and other community energy groups to an event at the site to get more people involved. For example, you could:

Fuel Poverty Alleviation

  • When delivering advise to people on reducing the cost of their utility bills it is best to get training from other groups who currently deliver such work.
  • Other community groups such as SELCE can offer this training.
  • Community buildings with high footfall or regular community events are ideal for delivering energy cafés, such as:
    • Community centres
    • Schools
    • Places of worship
    • Libraries
  • Speak to people who run the venues, explaining the aims of your group and energy cafés and find when they think would be a good time speak to the most about of people.
  • See if you can advertise in the venue and have people come along with the purpose of speak to you with their current utility bills.
  • Deliver energy cafés with trained volunteers using signage so people know why you’re there and feel can engage with the subject more easily
  • Provide leaflets to take away for people to think more about their energy consumption or supplier
  • Bring cake so that people are drawn to your table!
  • Make sure you follow up with people you have spoken to if they are happy for you to do so or have asked for more information

Organisation Structure

  • You might need to be legally incorporated for some funding opportunities, and it can help you be taken seriously by stakeholders. i.e. Community Benefit Society, CICs, Co-ops, Charities, IPS.
  • Look at how different structures will impact how income is distributed, implement a sustainable governance structure and embed certain company rules about social/environmental objectives.
  • Consider costs of registering as a legal entity – and remember there are some legal resources and advice available free online.
  • Have a look at Community Energy England resources for more info on this.
  • Get specialist advice on Model Rules from a community energy facilitator like Pure Leapfrog or Sharenergy. Note that this process can take several weeks/months.

Getting People Onboard

  • Survey stakeholders e.g. in person, through social media and/or by email to gauge interest for joining/ investing/ donating to a potential community energy project
  • Let them know what you’re doing, they may be able to help, find your local council here.
  • You can find out if your council has a Carbon Offset Fund here. These can often provide important sources of funding for community energy groups.
  • Talk to the sustainability/planning officer, identify council initiatives that can support what you’re doing, and identify any obstacles (e.g. listed buildings, conservation area, local opposition groups).
  • Particularly important if the council has declared a climate emergency – encourage them to set up a community energy fund, or check if they already have one.

Funding

  • Feasibility studies are exploratory work to see if the project is viable. The London Community Energy Fund offers up to £15,000 for feasibility, check if it’s open.
  • Get letters of support from important stakeholders (e.g. local council, local community, building-related people).
  • Alternatives include council funds and researching other environmental project funding, or more local project funding.
  • Keep an eye out on the Community Energy London funding page or Community Energy England funding page that gets updated when new opportunities become available.
  • Raise capital through an appropriate crowd-funding initiative, for example:
    • Community share offer
      • Examples here
      • Crowdfunder guide here
      • Community Share handbook here
    • Reward/donation based crowdfunding
    • Securing funding from a council community energy fund
  • Install your renewable technology and make progress towards your financial, environmental and social benefits and goals.

Monitoring and Evaluation

  • An important ongoing final stage for projects is monitoring and evaluation.
  • This ensure that the project is working to its full potential and that any issues can be quickly resolved.
  • CEE have more information on the technical side of M&E here
  • Installing remote monitoring can provide assurances about performance
  • Where funders have contributed toward a project, this kind of monitoring can provide an essential service for establishing the impact of the project
  • Depending on the project type and how it is funded, it is important to consider how the project will be run over the 25 year life of the solar project, or life of other types of project.
  • This includes:
    • Repayment of investors
    • Billing the energy purchaser for electricity consumed
    • Insurance requirements
    • Troubleshooting

Make Lasting Friendships, Join the Energy Revolution and Spread the Word!

Share your success with Community Energy London or suggest updates to this guide by emailing us at directors@communityenergy.london

This guide is an adaptation of a document written by Solar SOAS (UniSolar Limited)