How Electricity North West is supporting communities to #HarnessOurPower


This blog was written by Helen Seagrave, Community Energy Manager at Electricity North West for Community Energy Fortnight 2020. 

As the power network operator for the North West, we at Electricity North West have a major role to play as the region undergoes a transition to net zero.

We’re leading the way as over the next three years, we’ve committed to invest £63.5m to set a best-practice example of driving down our carbon footprint as well as helping others reduce theirs through development of the network.

As well as investing in the latest low carbon technologies, we’ve committed to our organisation being carbon neutral by 2038 and have committed to a pathway that would help the whole region get there by 2050. We’re also the first carbon literate distribution network operator in the world and we’re enabling our customers to connect low carbon technologies to our network and ensuring we are facilitating the transition for everyone. 

But that hard work transitioning to net zero doesn’t stop there as we also have a major role to play in the community and local energy sector.  

Our role involves talking to community and local energy customers and wider stakeholders and making sure we are delivering appropriate services.  We know from talking to groups in our region the top three areas they want our support are: improving access to us, finance and regulation.  One of the ways we have responded to this is by launching our Empowering our Communities Fund.  We have used this to support projects that address some of the main issues groups are facing, particularly finding new ways of working in a post-FITs world.  We have also used the fund to support projects that make sure no-one gets left behind and to help our communities take full advantage of the energy systems transition. 

Recently, we released our North West State of the Sector report, in partnership with Community Energy England, which showed an increase in community energy groups in our area to 32, we also saw a significant increase in community owned generation across the region in 2019 with seven generation projects installed totalling 826 kilowatts taking the total community owned generation in our region to 17.5MW. In 2019 it generated 40 GWh enough to power 13,300 homes.

Empowering our Communities is a fund which allows a range of organisations including community benefit societies, industrial provident societies, charities, schools and local authorities bid for funding for community energy projects.

We always ensure our criteria is broad as communities have their own innovative ideas on how they can increase resilience and bring community-wide benefit.

To date, we’ve granted more than £146,000 to various organisations and groups across the region. Two notable projects are Burneside Community Energy and Greater Manchester Community Renewables (GMCR).

Burneside Community Energy are a successful group based in Cumbria near Kendal and last year, Burneside Community Energy installed 430 kW of solar panels across five separate schemes in partnership with Cumbria Action for Sustainability and James Cropper PLC - as well as using community benefit funds to install a further 20 kW on a local school building.  The project we are supporting is for a more ambitious plan to develop community-owned energy assets for a new housing estate being planned for the village.  Our funding is being used to develop the business model to make this work and has so far resulting in the group being able to successfully bid for a further £100,000 from the Next Generation Fund to develop the detailed commercial propositions.  A key part to this project is making the new development more acceptable to the existing community and community energy is playing a positive role in this process.  In addition, it is planned that the community benefit fund will be used for the benefit of the wider community, particularly to help address fuel poverty.

Another group that received an award is Greater Manchester Community Renewables (GMCR), who installs solar panels on schools and community buildings, predominantly in Salford, Greater Manchester. So far it has installed PV on nine schools and a community centre since 2016, generating over 417 MWh.  Through its grant from our fund it is hoping to expand the reach of these schemes by developing the capacity to offer energy efficiency advice both to the schools and the families who attend the school.  It is hoped  that by raising the awareness of energy issues and climate change through the installation of the PV scheme it can influence behaviour change by offering practical advice on energy efficiency measures and other ways to reduce carbon emissions.

These are just two examples of how our support has helped to support the community energy sector in our region and support it to expand its reach into the community.

We’re always on the lookout for more projects to support. Want to know more or discuss any potential ideas? Get in touch via if you’re in the Electricity North West region. Our latest funding scheme will be launched in September.

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