Energy: One for all, and all for one

Save money, meet someone new and, while you’re at it, save some carbon. That’s the message liftshare is spreading.

Suzanne Fisher's picture
Insight by 
Suzanne Fisher
30 May 2012
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Most of the 2 million car trips shared every month are taken to save money and to make friends. The 112,000 tonnes of C02 saved every year are an added bonus.

Liftshare is just one of many UK and International projects which show how communities can come together to make green choices and create sustainable energy solutions. They're all finalists for the coveted Ashden Awards.

Owning the ‘means of production’ leads to smart, sustainable choices

Eight renewable energy co-operatives with almost 8,000 members, who collectively own the equivalent of over 20 MW of capacity in UK wind farms provide a model for how community-managed sustainable energy can work. All eight co-operatives have been created by Energy4All, which was set up in 2002 to expand the number of renewable energy co-operatives in the UK.

“Thinking changes once you own the means of production,” said Andrew King Energy4All’s Chairman. He said that co-operative members now plan ahead and make better energy choices, such as when to do the laundry, for example. 

According to King, 90% of the equity raised for renewable energy in the UK is from co-operatives showing that this management model is crucial for both the management and providing the start-up capital for similar schemes.

Community-ownership and cohesion is key to sustainable energy solutions

Off-grid hydro schemes are providing local communities in north-east Afghanistan with energy for the first time. Previously only 3% of households had any access to energy.  The project, managed by German development corporation GIZ and consulting engineers INTEGRATION, aims to use renewable energy projects to kick-start socio-economic development and better governance in the region.

It’s working. Before the scheme began, only 32% of people earned a subsistence wage through a job, now 90% of the community have jobs or small businesses. Interestingly, farmers can’t grow opium as a condition of receiving the power. Result: a huge drop in opium production in the region.

The project uses a combined public and private investment and management model. Leaseholders, who are trained to run and maintain the off-grid hydro plants get a 60% cut of the profits. The communities get a share in the construction work and are provided with training on how to use the electricity  productively to build up small businesses. 

The existence of the community-managed energy model helped the project tackle one of the project's largest challenges: poor governance and corruption, which is rife in the country. Local government leaders who “saw that the plant was making money” wanted to take it over, says Oliver Haas from GIZ. But as “the local management is already set up, that can’t happen.”

Many other community-managed energy examples were shared at the Ashden Awards, including 61 community-owned micro hydro plants in Indonesia run by IBEKA. The scheme provides 54,000 people with electricity and saves 7,400 tonnes of C02 a year. The communities are also keen to keep the trees and forest upstream intact, to ensure a steady supply of water downstream.

Which only goes to show that the impact of community-managed energy projects reaches far beyond providing electricity.