Community energy strategy in the UK has been given a big power boost by challenger supplier Ovo Energy.
The move by Ovo should accelerate the small but rapidly growing local generation and supply sector, mirroring other European countries.
Community energy as a cultural shift should help to change the market conditions in the power sector over the next decade. A common vision shared by the Energy Secretary, Ed Davey and community groups is for this model to alleviate the pain of ever-rising energy bills.
But perhaps more important, the cooperative culture should more rapidly reshape the way that people in communities view energy, moving it from a distant, uncontrollable and expensive commodity to a precious resource that needs to be managed and used responsibly.
Stephen Fitzpatrick, founder and managing director of Ovo has announced that the company will fit a big piece into the UK community energy puzzle.
Ovo is to be a co-ordinator and technology partner to local communities and aims to help local authorities, community groups and other bodies to supply energy, in a move that could bring up to 500 new power providers on-stream within six years.
According to the Guardian, Ovo has invested heavily in systems that can easily be scaled up to give community groups, local authorities and housing associations the tools they need to run a utility business, including customer service, billing and power generation.
The company, through a new Ovo Communities division, will also offer smart metering, power purchasing and energy efficiency installations as part of its new platform, an open access technology model similar to that used by retailer Amazon that could spark a revolution in power supply.
We have to view local energy in the current environment where 99% of energy production and supply is in the hands of the Big Six power companies but the active support of the Coalition through the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) is very welcome.
DECC has recently published its Community Energy Strategy which recognises the importance of building community energy into future policy. It has established a dedicated Community Energy Unit to act as the department’s policy lead on community energy and to facilitate implementation.
As Stephen Fitzpatrick says, one of the great myths of energy industry is that we need big, centralised energy companies to keep the lights on.
Ed Davey believes that “Ovo’s initiative is good news for energy consumers and shows that the independent suppliers who’ve grown so much in the last few years are stepping up the competition with the large energy companies. Helping local people take control of their power supply fits very much with our community energy vision, opening up energy markets to smaller companies and community organisations.”
How does this progressive vision play out? Well, there are many examples of community energy projects across the UK, with at least 5,000 community groups launching energy initiatives in the past five years, albeit mostly on a small scale.
Groups like the Community Energy Coalition have a growing membership with influential organisations, including the National Trust, the Women’s Institute and the Church of England as well as representatives from the community energy sector.
A recent YouGov survey indicates that three times more people believed they will get a fairer deal from a community-based energy supplier than a large company.
And challenger energy companies like Ovo also believe that customers are more likely to listen to local authorities and other community organisations about energy efficiency and tackling fuel poverty.
Any initiative that helps relieve pressure on energy bills is always welcome. Changes in behaviour can also bring benefits and the most effective way to support these is by promoting energy and water saving solutions such as LED lighting, eco showers, eco taps and tap aerators.