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Community Energy Conversation at March's Gathering


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June 29, 2023

Developing a community energy project is not for the fainthearted and March’s Sustainable South Hams Monthly Gathering brought together a vanguard of community group leaders determined to find a way through the complex issues involved.

Joddy Chapman, with more than a decade’s experience in the management of the South Brent Community Energy’s wind turbine, introduced "community energy" as encompassing a vast range of activities which could be split into two: energy saving, including fuel poverty work and building retrofit; and energy generation, typically renewable electricity generation but also renewable heat.

He outlined the range of community energy organisations in Devon, from the large Plymouth Energy Community, through the medium sized ones like Exeter and Tamar down to the smallest, and how these have come together as DCEN, the Devon Community Energy Network. Whilst there are many ways communities can get involved in retrofit and energy saving work, this meeting would focus on just one aspect of the generation side of community energy: getting a grid connection. He outlined the way electricity is distributed in South Devon and constraints to the connection of local renewable energy projects to the grid: a thermal constraint on the main connection to the "supergrid" from Abham (near Riverford), voltage constraints on all the 33kV lines and"fault level" limits, where local generation can add to the fault current that can flow in the event of a short circuit, potentially causing damage to the network.

This section of the grid is in the constituency of Anthony Mangnall MP.  Jane Nichols, CEO of Sustainable South Hams, suggested that a poll of community groups in South Hams should determine support for a campaign requesting Anthony Mangnall MP to seek assurances from National Grid ED to prioritise investment in the grid reinforcement necessary.

Mike Hodges, Energy mentor for SSH, shared new insights about opportunities for community groups to connect up to 99kW renewable energy projects to the low voltage grid.  Our understanding of how to identify potential sites for connection have evolved with the keen support of Andy Langman, the National Grid Electricity Distribution local planner. Mike has generously offered to provide a workshop for community groups who have an already established interest in community owned renewable energy.  The workshops will require good internet connection at the venue in order that he can access the schematic diagrams of the grid with the participants to identify sites with potential capacity.  National Grid will also supply a hard copy of the map for these workshops and will participate themselves once the group has identified a number of possible sites.  To register an interest please contact

Henry Wainwright, from Bigbury Net Zero, provided some guidelines on the development of a business plan for community owned renewable energy projects.  He emphasised the need to be clear about the objectives and warned against ‘over-selling’ because the full benefits relied upon the behaviour change of consumers.

Jane Nichols encouraged attendees to join in the up-coming DCEN Spring Gathering in Dartington, organised by the Devon Community Energy Network on 24/25th March.  The event is focussed on community energy and attendees will include managers from Energy Local UK, Devon Power Allotments, AONB and National Grid.

Are you interested in becoming part of the conversation? Join the SusSH Energy Special Interest Group here. Alongside DCEN, you may also be interested in information from Community Energy England, Regen and the Centre for Sustainable Energy.