Education

The collective energy revolution

 By Amanda Saint

In communities across the world, energy collectives are taking power generation and management back into their own hands. From off-grid tiny communities to whole towns home to thousands of people and businesses, there is a collective revolution going on. Through a combination of purchasing agreements and on-site generation from renewables, these collectives are transforming the energy landscape bit by bit. Highlight some of the projects that are successfully distributing power in their communities. Amanda Saint looks at what it means for the future of the energy sector…

In communities across the world, energy collectives are taking power generation and management back into their own hands. Through a combination of purchasing agreements, on-site generation from renewables, and sometimes a completely new way of living, these collectives are transforming the energy landscape bit by bit.

See more: Crowdfunding community energy by Jim McClelland

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Eco-communities

One successful example is the Murundaka Co-Housing Community in Melbourne, Australia. Consisting of 20 households who are all working together to provide quality affordable housing with minimal impact on the environment, the collective has focused on providing “Energy Freedom” for the community since its inception in 2011. A range of energy efficiency measures have helped cut the energy use of its buildings by 25% and reduced power bills by 50%. Now, 100% of the community’s electricity comes from solar power.

In the UK, the Lammas Ecovillage project was the country’s first planned ecovillage. Energy generation and use is just one element of this project — the people who live in the village are focused on developing a completely self-sustaining way of life, from growing their own food to generating their own power and building their own homes from local natural or recycled materials. All of the electricity in the village comes from micro solar panels and a hydropower generator.

In the developed world, the lure off energy collectives is building and millions of people in Europe, the US and Australia are looking at ways to live more sustainably and in tune with nature. Since 1995, the Global Ecovillage Network has connected people around the world to share knowledge and resources to help develop self-sustaining and environment-regenerating communities.

So what do you do if you want more control over the energy you use but don’t want to live in a off-grid community? This is where collective energy purchasing comes in.

Harvesting twenty years of GEN Europe

Purchasing power

The vast majority of energy purchasing collectives are not just focused on cutting the costs of their power bills but also on having more control over how that power is generated.

The U.S. state of Illinois is a great example of a successful collective in action. Hundreds of communities across the area have opted for city or town-wide control of energy purchasing. As this case study reveals in detail, the village of Oak Park, which is essentially a commuter suburb of Chicago and home to over 50,000 people, took control back in 2011. Voters authorized the town board to negotiate a collective deal for all, making sure that all of the electricity the town used would be from renewable energy.

In 2012, the Eden Project launched the UK’s first regional energy purchasing collective —Cornwall Together. Although just a two-year research project, part-funded by the Department of Environment and Climate Change, it saved Cornwall’s population of 540,000 over $190,000 on energy bills. The knowledge gained from the project’s completion has gone on to inform the development of many of the country’s collective buying organizations.

But are energy purchasing collectives or eco-communities a viable and manageable option for the world’s rapidly growing super-cities, already home to many millions of people and still growing fast?

The power of collective energy purchasing (www.fastcompany.com)

Outlook for the future

As mentioned above, there is an eco-community already operating in Melbourne, a city of over 4 million people. Cornwall’s collective managed the purchasing for around 250,000 households. With all huge cities broken down into boroughs within the whole, there is the scope for collective solutions. There just has to be the desire from the residents.

The collective energy revolution is gathering pace — both options offer lower costs and a chance to improve environmental performance. Some version of either (or both) will likely have to become viable on a wider scale, if these cities are to remain sustainable and help slow down the effects of climate change.

about the author
Amanda Saint
Journalist and content writer, specialised in engineering and technology with a focus on environmental sustainability, urbanisation and biotechnology.