Time to take our energy local
If we want to protect ourselves from volatile global energy markets, we urgently need to scale up renewable energy – alongside energy efficiency – within our local communities. Chris Rowland, director of Ovesco Community Energy, explains what’s happening to do that here in Lewes District.
Acting on climate change to reduce CO2 emissions and energy security with the rise in global gas prices are two issues at the forefront of the news.
The government is responding by looking to revive onshore fracking for shale gas and opening up the North Sea for even more fossil gas supplies. But that’s not a solution to reduce energy prices for homeowners and businesses in a world where energy is traded on volatile global markets – and such plans would take the UK much further away from its goals to reach net zero carbon emissions.
Scaling up renewable energy and energy efficiency are the solutions we now urgently need when taking action on climate change and securing a low-cost energy supply for our future. The government has recently said it will open up the market for onshore wind, but that will take time to get planning permission and would require viable sites in Lewes District. So what’s the solution?
Pioneering community energy
At Ovesco – Transition Town Lewes’s local energy company – our vision is for a future in which 100% of our energy needs are generated locally from renewable sources, principally ones that are relatively swift and straightforward to install.
In 2011, we set off on the road to realise this vision by pioneering a community solar model. This involved installing solar photovoltaic (solar PV) on the roof of Harvey’s Brewery depot in Lewes panels, funded by local people in return for an annual investment yield. Today, we have used this model to operate 15 roof-top sites, which, between them, have delivered half a megawatt (MW) in renewable energy over the past decade.
Those roof-top sites are also benefiting the schools and business on which they are installed with free or cheap low-carbon electricity – all backed by local community investment. That model has inspired many other community groups in the south-east and led to the creation of Community Energy South.
In our biggest undertaking to date, Ovesco also helped develop the 5MW solar farm near Chichester for Meadow Blue Community Energy. We want to build on that success with further large-scale solar farms, owned by and directly benefiting local communities.
Factoring in energy efficiency
As I’ve said, meeting our energy needs is about increasing energy efficiency as well as renewable energy production. Ovesco has been exploring this multi-pronged approach with the CommuniHeat project, which is looking at how to take the parish of Barcombe off oil and onto carbon-free heating. Local energy generation opportunities can be challenging in a rural community with a constrained grid. So energy efficiency, home energy generation and community energy will all play their part in the next stage of CommuniHeat.
Support for greater energy efficiency is also being provided by the Ovesco Energy Champions, who are available to give advice on energy bills and how to increase energy efficiency at home.
Meeting our local energy needs
So exactly how much renewable energy here in Lewes do we need to install – both to meet our energy needs and help reach our goals to get to ‘net zero’ carbon emissions?
At OVESCO, we estimate it would take roughly 25MW-30MW of solar PV to provide the domestic electricity needs of Lewes and the nearby surrounding villages. We now aim to use that as a target for delivery by 2025. But it’s only achievable if we can also deploy ground-mounted solar PV in the next three years – we cannot do it with roof-top solar PV alone.
Locations to achieve scale for renewable energy are limited in Lewes District by various factors. These include the ability to connect to the electricity grid, areas of flood risk, the boundary of the South Downs National Park, land ownership and availability of land. We also need to take into account sites already occupied by residential and industrial areas or earmarked for future permanent developments.
With many pressures on our local environment, there is a need for a balanced view to make informed decisions about our future needs. Constraints mean we all need to have the vision to make meaningful choices for our future—and our land use.
We live in challenging times. But by working together as a community, we can build a brighter future, built on clean and reliable renewable energy in Lewes and across the Ouse Valley.
Want to get involved?
You can help by promoting OVESCO’s vision and supporting (or even joining) our team of energy champions, who are giving free advice to local residents on how save money and become more energy efficient.
For more information about OVESCO and how to get involved, go to www.ovesco.co.uk.
To get in contact with our Energy Champions, email firstname.lastname@example.org.