Listen to this article:
This article was first published in The Oxford Blue magazine.
Energy used to be something that was always there. A flick of a switch. A push of a button. But reality hits when a commodity slips out of your grasp, and you no longer have access. The frightful realisation that you are held in limbo within the clawed ownership of an energy company sinks in. And all you can do is hope for help. Your hands are tied.
Re-powering London and a similar Oxford-based project, LEO (Local Energy Oxfordshire) aim to cut these cuffs. By decentralising energy ownership to local communities, Re-powering London enables communities to control the price of the energy they produce through community-owned renewable solutions.
Originally started in Brixton in 2013, a community of flats raised money through a share offer to add solar panels to their roof. The share offer allows multiple small investors to provide funds to communally own the infrastructure. Originally, they were not allowed to directly use the energy that these solar panels created and instead the power was sold back to the National Grid. However, now the flats are primarily powered by this energy, which allows them to price it much cheaper than the National Grid – 6p versus 35p. If there is an excess of energy produced, it is shared with the neighbouring flats instead of going to the highest bidder, as is practice in the National Grid. This practice further creates divisions based on wealth.
But what happens to the profit from the solar panels? The income pays for the running costs of the community group, as well as the 3 percent investment promised to the shareholders. Any excess over this is placed into a community fund, which a board of directors, made up of volunteers from the community, collectively decide how to spend. Unfortunately, the term ‘shareholders’ seems to oppose the revolutionary grounds of this project. But these shareholders are actually limited in how much they can contribute. They also cannot sell their shares or liquefy them for profit; therefore, only interested investors that agree unequivocally with the morals of the project are selected.
This is a small demonstration of collective wisdom prevailing over the short-term profits of the powerful minority. Not only does it increase the visibility of our voices, but it also provides further community connection. At the moment, less than 1 percent of renewable power sources are owned by the community. An increase in this to only 20 percent could provide an extra income of 3 billion pounds into our communities every year with localised control on the cost and distribution of the energy produced.
Similar projects are even running in our locality. Project LEO is an ambitious project with forward-thinking approaches aimed to accelerate the UK transition towards a zero-carbon energy system. They aim to provide evidence to support radical policy change and investment to fuel technological, social, and financial conditions for successful systemic change.
Control is no longer being given over; it is being taken back. The ability to determine for what price and by what means we access the necessities of daily life is ours. We cannot be the victims of those with more cash in their pockets. We must be our own saviours. The energy system is broken, and we need to help rebuild it.