Something amazing’s brewing on the estates of Hoxton in Hackney, or ‘Tech City’ as some now prefer to call it.
Or at least something amazing was brewing.
Then, this summer, the Department of Energy and Climate Change snuck out cuts to support for renewable energy. And a genius plan cooked up by some flatmates in N1 looked likely to be cut short.
Hoxton might be known for hipster beards and tech start-ups but there’s also a load of council housing in the area. The plan had been to cover the sunnier bits of it with solar panels. They’d be transforming currently dormant, unused space into mini power stations.
Inspired by similar work further north in the borough, Hackney Energy, they’d also ensure the scheme was owned by local people and profits stayed in the area. They’d also invest in energy efficiency measures, climate education and paid internships for local young people.
Britain might not be known for its sunshine, but solar power in the UK has rapidly expanded in recent years. A record amount of solar power was added to the world’s grids in 2014, with Britain leading solar expansion in Europe. By the end of 2014 there was almost five gigawatts of solar photovoltaic panels installed in the UK, up from 2.8GW at the end of 2013.
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The growth’s been massive. But now the government wants to put a stop to it, with a proposed 87% cut to the solar feed-in-tariff which many fear will kill off the solar industry all together.
A point that’s often forgotten about the feed in tariff scheme is that it was designed to help the public play a role in our transition to a low-carbon economy. Part of this has been via households putting solar on their roofs, and the policy is sometimes criticised as just a subsidy for people already rich enough to own property.
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However, a growing number of community groups have been clubbing together to quietly build a small energy revolution in the UK off the back of the feed in tariff. Their stories are rarely told, but they’ve been doing some amazing things.
Hoxton Community Energy’s plans were ambitious, but that’s not unusual in community energy. They were also feasible, indeed sensible, considering how much roof space there is in the area, currently sitting untapped.
They were aiming for a total of 300kw. Then the cuts were announced and they had to scramble to pre-register any sites they wanted to work on. They needed planning permission for any site over 50kw (unfeasible in the short time frame) and energy performance certificates for any site (again unfeasible for a small grassroots project to fund and complete in time).
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In the end, despite a huge amount of work, Hoxton Community Energy only pre-registered 50kw. All that untapped potential just sitting there above our heads. And it’s a sad story that’s been repeated up and down the country.
But it’s not too late. The consultation on the cuts closes on Friday evening, and you can still respond. You can do it directly to the Department of Energy and Climate Change. Or, because we know how hard it can be to use the government systems (almost as if they didn’t want a response) we’ve made a slightly slicker version, which should only take a few minutes.
Al Gore, Boris Johnson, the CBI and the Chief Scientist to the United Nations Environment Programme (not always a group you’d expect to hear in concert) have all criticised the government’s renewables policy.
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Alice Bell is a former academic and journalist, specialising in the politics of science and technology. She currently works in campaigns for climate change charity 10:10