Community Action Platform for Energy - The CAPE Project
Professor Sally Dibb and Dr Helen Roby, between 2015 and 2017 delivered a study to explore what it takes to get communities involved in local energy projects. The project was funded by Innovate UK and delivered in partnership with SmartKlub (a smart energy SME), the Satellite Applications Catapult, Tech Mahindra, The Open University, Milton Keynes Council and Community Action MK. Initially based in the Milton Keynes area, the study results are being used to roll the project out to other parts of the country.
CAPE is an innovative pilot project to develop an interactive and free-to-use platform that puts Big Data tools in the hands of communities. This data helps businesses and communities make their energy use cheaper and more sustainable and enables them to plan and run community energy projects. Platform users have access to data tools which bring together satellite images and heat maps of local buildings, energy performance and usage data, and socio-demographic information. Using clever algorithms to combine these different data sources means users can find out, for example, how much energy they might generate or how much money they could save on their heating bills by installing solar panels to their roofs or putting ground source heat pumps in their gardens. The platform also provides practical information on how to organise community energy projects and access funding. Ultimately, the aim is to enable collaborative working between a city’s communities, local authorities and suppliers.
The CBiS research team developed an in-depth understanding of what motivates communities to engage in community energy projects. The project found a range of motivations, both tangible and less tangible. Tangible motivations included reduced household energy costs and improved levels of comfort, as well as creating jobs for local trades people. Less tangible benefits focussed on issues around community cohesion and identity, leading to a sense of empowerment that sparked interest in other community projects.
For the purposes of this project, community was defined in various ways. The communities did not necessarily have to identify themselves as energy communities. Although some had been established specifically with this aim in mind, others became involved in energy projects after being set up for other reasons. This group ranged from local women’s groups and hobby societies, to sports clubs and faith communities. However, having inspirational leadership and uniting behind a common goal were important indicators of success.
Throughout the project engagement with stakeholders was a key element of the work, where representatives of the community were involved in the co-design and testing of the platform. Other ways in which stakeholders were involved through the engagement work undertaken by Community Action:MK included:
- Community field trial in the Lakes Estate in Milton Keynes, giving residents the opportunity to swap to more efficient LED lightbulbs and get involved in other community energy projects. 700 lightbulbs were swapped, with an estimated lifetime saving of just under £30,000.
- CAPE’s participation in Community Energy fortnight 24/6-9/7/17
- CAPE’s participation in the Off-Grid Solar Lighting Project – May 2017
- Presentation at one of the local secondary schools about CAPE, which linked to the Eco Schools campaign.
- 3 ‘pop up’ events in Milton Keynes to showcase CAPE: two at Moorlands Centre in Beanhill and one at the Breastfeeding Cafe at the King’s Community Centre in Wolverton.
The CAPE project has received several awards for the platform and its engagement work:
- Smart Cities UK 2017 award under the Housing category – for projects that improve the standard of living for homeowners and support low cost living.
- Green Business Social Impact Award 2017.
Work continues through dissemination at academic conferences, including the International Sustainable Transitions Conference in Manchester, 2018; the British Institute of Energy Economics – Consumers at the Heart of the Energy System? in Oxford, 2018; and, the British Academy of Management Conference in Bristol, 2018.