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Report reviews potential of biomass, solar thermal and CHP at community scale

A new report released by the Energy Saving Trust (EST) has highlighted the renewable and low carbon technology it believes are most cost effective and will have the biggest impact on carbon dioxide emissions if rolled out on a community scale.

‘Power in numbers: the benefits and potential of distributed energy generation at the small community scale’ reviewed the potential for a range of technology including solar hot water, photovoltaics (PV), wind, ground source heat pumps, air source heat pumps, Combined Heat and Power (CHP) and biomass boilers.

The report noted: “The advantages of some technologies at the community-scale are relatively limited and arise principally from bulk purchase discounts (PV, solar thermal and heat pumps.)

“The greatest benefits of scale (and hence community activity) are seen for wind turbines in windy areas and for biomass and CHP technologies (biomass and gas based) in dense urban areas, where cost effective energy provision is available from the medium scale (around 50 flats) and above.”

The report analysed technologies against a number of community types and sizes including small rural towns, terraced urban areas, dense town centres and new build estates

Sylvia Baron, Renewables Strategy Manager at EST, said: “We are not trying to say that a technology only fits this community and will not work anywhere else, but we are able to say - based on today’s energy prices, technology prices and policies -  which products we think are more economical in each community type.”

The report said community schemes could eventually deliver 54 per cent of the UK’s household energy demand, but only with the right financial support and if massive bureaucratic hurdles were tackled.

Dr Baron said: ““We were surprised with the potential of community energy schemes. If the right policy mechanisms are in place they could save 65 per cent of the UK’s carbon emissions from households.

“So far EST has focused on individual households and microgeneration and we wanted to see what would happen if people worked together as communities.

“It has proved that economically there is a case and we are now working internally to decide on the next steps for us.

“However, we have already made recommendations and want the Government and other stakeholders to take these on board as there are a lot of organisations and bodies which needs to get active to see what we can do to unlock the potential.”

EST is now keen to undertake field trials on the scaling up of technology and also compiling case studies to increase confidence for consumers.

Dr Baron said: “Our work with consumers indicates they are concerned and there is a lack of awareness and lack of trust in the technology as they don’t know what to believe and don’t know how much heat or energy a particular technology will produce.

“We want to get all the data together to make it available to the public.”

The EST has put forward a range of measures to promote community wide projects these include the effective implementation of Feed in Tariffs and a Renewable Heat Incentive as already outlined by the Government.

It also wants to see a network of Development Officers established to provide time and expertise to support community energy projects, improvements to training for planning officers and better funding mechanisms to reduce the risk of developing community projects.

It is also keen to encourage best practice through providing “off the peg” legal and business models for future schemes and generic models which ensure cost transparency around maintenance and billing costs.