New Power interviews Community Energy England's CEO Emma Bridge


New Power is a specialist report for anyone with an interest in the UK energy industry. It looks in-depth at all the issues that have to be addressed to rebuild our industry – moving from a centralised high-carbon power system to one that will provide heat and power securely, affordably and with minimal carbon dioxide emissions.

As a specialist publication talking to experts, New Power interviews women and men in the industry every month about industry development and issue. Community Energy England's CEO Emma Bridge was interviewed for their June monthly report. You can download the June issue here if you are a subscriber or read an excerpt below. You can also access New Power's 'Women in Action' supplement here.

The broad energy industry must support the community energy sector if it wants to get public buy-in to dramatic changes in the energy landscape, says Emma Bridge, Chief Executive of Community Energy England.

Talking to New Power Report ahead of Community Energy Fortnight, she said community energy was able to tap into public opinion. “Community energy is a vital influencer. There are a lot of pilots out there at big scales, but you can’t test the effectiveness unless you test them at a community level”.

For example, on electric vehicles, she says companies have to look at their assumptions about charging flexibility. “Everywhere I have been, where it is not energy experts talking about these things, people have been horrified at the idea that someone can decide whether or not they can charge their vehicle. They say ‘what if I need to go to the hospital in the middle of the night’?”

She says, “The community energy sector will be really important to feedback those concerns and make sure that people are educated on how it works. Having access to [EVs] through community energy schemes, first of all, is a really good way to show them how it works and help that behaviour change. There’s a lot to be done about making it a social norm so people are able to accept it.”

Bridge said it had been a “very hard two or three years for the sector,” citing the loss of feed-in tariffs as the most important factor. But the sector has been hit by other issues too: Bridge says a decision by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has “huge implications for us if we want to start doing supply in future.” The FCA says community energy organisations cannot be registered as cooperatives. Because they benefit the wider community (instead of strictly co-operative members) they have to use another structure such as a community interest company. “If you are looking at direct supply, or ways of doing that, it makes it a lot more difficult,” says Bridge.