Find out more about the co-op that’s tackling the climate and energy crises by installing solar panels, raising awareness and helping businesses become energy efficient…
A co-operative run by its members, Grimsby Community Energy (GCE) has been dedicated to bringing community energy projects to the local area since its inception in 2016.
With 73 members and six solar panel installations on local properties totalling 200kW, GCE’s work is reducing CO2 emissions while saving energy consumers money.
Amongst the buildings GCE has fitted with solar panels are the YMCA Humber and a fundraising charity shop for the Rock Foundation, which supports children and adults with learning disabilities.
The co-op raises funds for solar panel installations via community share offers, attracting investment from local people and organisations. It then sells the cheaper, cleaner energy to the building and offers a return to investors.
"Since January of this year, we’ve also been working with North East Lincolnshire Council and local social enterprise E-Factor on the Smarter Energy NEL project,” she continues. “The aims are to help small and medium sized enterprises make a real difference to their carbon footprint and positively reduce energy costs.”
The project offers comprehensive energy audits, which evaluate the business premises and report back on how best to reduce carbon footprint and save money.
“Smarter Energy NEL has now provided free energy audits to more than 40 businesses of all kinds, from a coffee shop to a foundry. In many cases, the audits have been followed by grants for energy saving measures, which will save more than 70 tonnes of CO2,” says Vicky.
Another way GCE benefits the local community – and raises awareness of renewable energy – is by offering work experience placements to college and sixth form students, as Vicky explains: “They get to do lots of practical work as part of the NEL project, looking at environmental policies, creating social media posts and taking testimonials from the businesses we’ve supported.”
“The feedback from the students has been good and they’ve come away feeling much more motivated about renewable and community energy than before. This is an area of community benefit we are going to deliver more of, so we’re developing our work experience as day release.”
Whilst GCE is doing its bit to reduce emissions, in Vicky’s opinion, there’s still plenty more work to do at all levels. “We’ve a lot to learn from other countries,” she says. “We’ve got the leakiest houses in Europe, and in Germany they’ve stopped lighting up certain things at night.
“The war in Ukraine may have focused our minds on the energy crisis, but it’s certainly not the cause. There are other root causes that go way back, such as when the government stopped insulating homes. And the boom and boost for businesses in the energy industry because government schemes have proved to be too complicated.”
For Vicky, tackling the energy and climate crises must be addressed in a number of ways: “We need to reduce energy use by efficiency and insulation – and that’s what our NEL project is working towards.
“There’s also a need for storage technologies for renewable energy, of which there are all kinds. I’ve been to conferences and industry shows and are plenty of ways energy can be stored. And there’s an awful lot of jobs in that too.
“With electricity and gas, there should be a minimum amount that people can use, with adjustment for age and disability. If people use more than that for by running hot tubs or powering lots of electricals for example, then they pay more. But at least people’s basic requirements are met.
“There should also be reform with the way energy is charged. Currently, renewable energy and fossil fuels are all put into the grid with one standard charge regardless of source. Why does all electricity have to be put in together when we have much cheaper sources?
“The cost of electricity from solar panels looks ridiculous compared to the grid. We installed solar panels at E-Factor in 2016 and they’ve recently posted on social media saying they’re glad they did it because their electric costs are half current standard prices.
“The same goes for the other organisations we’ve worked with. I couldn’t write a personal cheque like that for the YMCA Humber. But it’s great knowing we’ve supported them in reducing their energy costs which frees up funds they can put into supporting young people who are vulnerable.”
Grimsby Community Energy is currently working with local businesses and charities to launch its fourth community share offer in the near future.
It was awarded £5,000 through the Booster Fund in August 2022 to get ready to launch a share offer to fund the development of six new solar PV sites.
“A typical business could be a manufacturer experiencing high energy bills, with a suitable roof, not wanting to invest in solar themselves, but happy for us to provide the solar panels and sell them discount clean electricity.
“The share offer will fund the panels. Putting a package of sites together means we can work with some charity projects which wouldn’t stand up on their own financially.
“Other businesses with large electricity bills might be suitable too, for instance hotels and offices,” Vicky explains. “This will be a great step of business growth – and it’s all part our ongoing mission to help more businesses cut their electricity bills and their carbon emissions.”