Camilla Berens, chair of South East London Community Energy, explains how a mixture of people power and sunlight is creating a new kind of organisation.
London needs more clean, green renewable energy and the Selce co-operative is helping to speed up the transition. Five years ago a group of local people came together with a common vision. All of us wanted to take action on climate change and we agreed that the best place to start was in our own back yard. Today, South East London Community Energy is starting to make a real difference.
So far, we’ve raised over £500,000 and we’ve used this money to install solar arrays on seven local primary schools. We’re currently on target to provide four further arrays for a church, two co-operatively-run leisure centres and pioneering moon sculpture. The way we raise our money is through ‘community share offers’; a method that ensures everyone benefits. You can find more details about how Selce’s community share offers work at: selce.org.uk/se-solar.
People-powered solar energy
Here’s how it works. Anyone who puts £250 or more into our fundraising pot receives an annual thank you in the form of dividend payment (usually around 3% of their initial investment). It’s a modest payment but it’s still better than the average interest on a savings account or an ISA. Once we’ve raised enough money, our ‘solar partners’ receive free arrays and reduced energy bills. The key benefit of a community share offer is that we can raise large sums of money in a comparatively short period of time – usually around a month.
All our directors are volunteers and any surplus we generate is ploughed back into our parallel projects to eradicate fuel poverty in South East London. Each winter we run a series of friendly pop-up Energy Advice Cafes in local libraries and community centres. The cafes provide expert one-to-one guidance on how to reduce gas and electricity costs and make homes more energy efficient. Quite often we help people to get out of energy debt as well. We also provide training for frontline workers and, more recently, local ‘energy champions’ who can spread their knowledge and support the most vulnerable people in their area. To date, we’ve given advice to more than 2,500 households – saving a total of 200 tonnes of carbon and £2.4m in energy costs.
Future Fit Homes
There’s no doubt that one of the most effective ways to reduce London’s carbon footprint is by making all of our homes more energy efficient. It’s been estimated that 80% of the homes we’ll be using in 2050 have already been built (IET Report Retrofit 2050). For most of us, energy efficiency is a daunting prospect and, with this in mind, Selce has started a new project called Future Fit Homes.
Home-owners and private tenants can now benefit from a complete support service from energy audit to retrofit (including boiler replacement and loft insulation). The project includes a home energy report with tailored advice on cost savings, thermal imaging to trace draughts, project management and carefully vetted contractors. More information on our energy efficiency project can be found at: futurefithomes.org.uk or by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org
Selce’s initiatives are not unique. There are over 200 community energy organisations around the UK and each one is providing an example of how renewable energy can be generated by people power and used to make communities stronger and better equipped to meet the climate change challenges ahead.
Facebook: SELCE – South East London Community Energy
Photo credit: Selim Korycki