Community energy groups need to ask how, not whether, to harness new technologies

Sensemaking / Community energy groups need to ask how, not whether, to harness new technologies

Will Dawson, Head of Energy at Forum for the Future, reflects about how communities need to take ownership of emerging technologies.

By Will Dawson / 31 May 2017

Tech innovations offer to make it much easier for citizens to be active players in the design and delivery of their energy system, bringing the decisions into their hands. Some in the community energy sector resist it, however: they are concerned it could ‘sully’ the movement for active behaviour change to minimise energy use, and actually compete with other methods of engaging people in decision-making (through committees, for instance).

In fact, emerging technologies could be used to support greater engagement. Rather than debating whether particular technologies should be used, the focus for community energy pioneers should be on shaping how they are used, and embracing the new forms of participation they offer.

For instance, Manchester United fans around the world could be part of a renewable energy trading club that’s automated by Blockchain, without any intermediary broker or supply company needed.

Take blockchain: the basis for secure peer-to-peer record making. Such a tool needn’t disenfranchise the members of an energy cooperative. Rather, members can decide on the algorithms that govern peer-to-peer trading in their community, and then use a blockchain-enabled trading system to run the supply and demand of energy. Executive decisions could be taken in a more participative way: “What price should we charge today?” could be the question for all members not only the executive team at the top. 

Community energy is a fast-growing movement with the power to reshape the relationship between people, energy and energy technologies. Emerging technologies could open a wave of new possibilities for this. How about the rise of non-geographical community energy network? For instance, Manchester United fans around the world could be part of a renewable energy trading club that’s automated by Blockchain, without any intermediary broker or supply company needed.

Let’s stop talking about technologies as inherently a good or bad thing in energy: they’re tools. How can community energy help us to put them to good use - empowering us to engage with the energy transition?

What might the implications of this be? What related articles have you seen?

The football club mentioned in the referenced article is actually Manchester City, not Manchester United.
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