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Community innovation in sustainable energy

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  • Purpose of the presentation – introduce people to a project that is ongoing, and flag up some of the methodological issues we have had to address in terms of conceptualising community energy (as grassroots innovations), and the dilemmas that these grassroots innovators are grappling with – and spark a discussion about what this means for niche theory, as well as strategies for boosting GIS
  • Three year research project (2010 – 2013) funded by EPSRC and ECLEER-EdFThree partners – SPRU, CSERGE, and ECLEERRootedness of community energy projects raises all sorts of interesting questions about the facility with which they can spread, grow and scale-upBold signifies preliminary evidence we are drawing upon in this presentation
  • Community development been a contested term and resource throughout its history. Providing competing legitimacies for different interests and purposes.Geographical-; identity-; issue-based communities. Sustainable energy = issue-based, clearly, with big overlap of geography and identitySustainable energy? For whom, how, and why – the contested qualities of sustainability. CE projects as ‘simple’ niches cf. ‘strategic’ niches, i.e. Groups who wish to simply power their community centre with cleaner energy used more efficiently (saving money), cf. groups who see themselves as part of a decentralised, democratic energy revolution.Signals three enduring issues in community development generally:Community development as conservative/ameliorating treatment of immediate surface issues or transformational/empowering address of root causes in socio-economic justiceIssues about the balance between community development as a technical, professionalised service cf. value-based radical activism.3. Cutting across these two:Development for communities – top-down, role in management/delivery of activities (targets and outputs)Development with communities – bottom-up, role in strategic direction/negotiation of activities (process and outcomes)1) co-operatives, such as windfarms and community heating projects; 2) community charities, such as associations and organisations; 3) development trusts which raise funds for community energy projects ; and 4) shares owned by a local community organisation, for instance in energy projects
  • Intermediaries include:policy-makers (such as DECC) businesses interested in community energy (such as Good Energy)
  • Niche analytical framework informing our research – networks of projects - opportunities arising from policy interest (and some utilities)
  • “The aims of the event were to:Explore how community organisations can play a key role in the delivery of carbon reduction targetsEnable a broad range of ‘community and climate’ organisations to get up to speed on a developing new agenda, and to jointly discuss their responsesStrengthen the capacity of this ‘community and climate’ sectorEnable the development of relationships between this sector and other agencies.”
  • Table too dichotomous – some things not compatible or mutually exclusive
  • Transcript

    • 1. Community energy niches in sustainable energy transitions
      Sabine Hielschera, Tom Hargreavesb, Adrian Smitha, Gill Seyfangb, Jin Parka
      2nd International Conference on Sustainability Transitions
      Lund, 13-15 June 2011
      a: SPRU (Science & Technology Policy Research), University of Sussex, UK
      b: CSERGE (Centre for Social and Economic Research on the Global Environment), University of East Anglia, UK
    • 2. Community innovation in sustainable energy
      Applying niche theory to the analysis of innovation in community energy in the UK
      Networks of activists and organisations generating novel bottom–up solutions for renewable energy generation, energy demand reduction, and awareness raising on sustainable energy issues; solutions that respond to the local situation and the interests and values of the communities involved.
      Mixed methods:
      review of research, grey and policy literatures on community energy
      content analysis of ‘good practice’ cases and toolkits
      participant observation (conferences, practitioner workshop)
      semi-structured interviews with ‘intermediary’ organisations
      on-line survey of community energy groups
      nine in-depth case studies of community energy initiatives
      (social network analysis)
      scenario development
    • 3. The community settings for sustainable innovation
      Community energy
      Source: Walker and Devine-Wright (2008)
      Community development is ‘a movement to promote better living for the whole community [i.e. outcome], with active participation and if possible on the initiative of the community [i.e. process]’
      (UN, 1953; italics added)
      Source: Pearce (2003)
    • 4. The community sustainable energy field in the UK
      Rapid growth in last six years (~3500 groups on the Green Communities database). Wide variety :
      - energy generation, efficiency, behaviours - technologies
      - organisation - resource models
      - geography and social groups - established, planned, aspiring
      Policy narratives - government favourably disposed, but linked to different agendas over time
      (‘local awareness’ to ‘role in transition’ to ‘Big Society’)
      Policy support - advice services, grant programmes, competitions, market frameworks
      (CRI, LCBP/CCF, LCCCP, FIT/Green Deal)
      Intermediaries are shifting & developing roles in response to policy and groundswell from communities:
      initiate community work and/or maintain networks (e.g. CORE, EST)
      share experience, good practice, expertise and advice (e.g. CSE)
      lobby and advocate community energy in the policy context (e.g. LCCN)
      provide specific products to community initiatives (e.g. revolving funds)
      create an interface between initiatives and policy-makers/ business actors (e.g. CCAA)
      create partnerships with community energy initiatives (e.g. LAs)
    • 5. Towards a niche analysis?
      Policy (and energy regime) opportunities and threats
      (shaping the niche space)
      Strategic responses
      (shaping the niche space)
      (focus for remainder of presentation)
      From local projects to global niche?Possibly ...
      - evidence of networking
      - but great diversity cf. standardising approaches
      - not every initiative wants to be ‘strategic’
      Evidence of learning and experience sharing? Yes ...
      - conferences, cases, toolkits, evaluations
      But ...
      - ‘good practice’ issues are selective, some things are hidden, tense expectations
      (something we are researching, but not discussed further here)
      Source: Geels and Raven (2006)
    • 6. Niche policy and politics: an illustration ...
      Organised by several networks and funded by DECC, EST and Groundwork
      Aim was to explore how this emerging sector could become more effective, more responsive, more visible, and more co-ordinated in its dialogues with other agencies.
      130 people on day one, 220 on day two, 30 speakers plus workshops
      A new Communities and Climate Action Alliance was debated (in response to request from DECC), and a ‘network of networks’ was approved, but some enduring dilemmas were raised
    • 7. Niche empowerment? Issues surfacing in the CCA debate
      Collaboration and representation – but over what, and for whom?
      Niche co-operation for internal development (experience, support, visions)
      Niche campaigning and engaging with regime (peak association?!)
      Strength in diversity or unity?
      Local knowledge, deeply rooted practices – inefficient for spreading and scaling-up?
      Coherent voice to engage with the regime – or to discipline projects (imposing metrics, expectations and evaluations)?
    • 8. More issues surfacing in the CCA debate
      Shaping the wider context, or being shaped by it?
      New pay-back opportunities (FIT and Green Deal) – “Realisation that grants can be stifling for communities rather than liberating” – turn towards creating community enterprises (competing with utilities?)
      Hang on, perhaps we need to challenge the policy opportunities and demand space for more co-operative community energy?
      Does engagement really matter?
      Activists and supporters should just focus on local projects, therein lies community energy’s strength
      No, community energy must become more strategic, which means becoming credible on regime terms
    • 9. Enduring dilemmas?
      At risk of dichotomising the plurality of political experimentation, are these the horns of the current community energy dilemma?
    • 10. Conclusions: implications for niche analysis
      Niche spaces involve experimentation with political strategies too ...
      with implications for innovation dynamics?
      Source: Geels and Raven (2006)
    • 11. Conclusion: enduring dilemmas?
      Stretching and transforming strategy
      (limited influence in absence of empowerment)
      Fitting and conforming strategy
      (sustainability diminished)
      Craig et al (2011) (reflecting on 60 years of ‘community development’ in UK):
      “Government – perhaps learning on its own terms from the experience of Community Development Projects – does not therefore respond to agendas set from below, or allow the political space for alternative explanations ... but shapes policy programmes from above, for (rather than with) communities. This has enormous implications for the practice of community development since it effectively places government-sponsored community development in collision with the value base of community development”
      Project website
      www.grassrootsinnovations.org

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