Let’s talk about energy…
Energy has become a hot topic – and looking at ways of saving money as well as empowering communities to take control is now of interest across the board.
A mixture of residents and staff from local organisations came together at Filwood Community Centre in March – all motivated by this common concern.
The workshop run by Knowle West Media Centre (KWMC) and the University of Bristol (UoB) – entitled Re-thinking Energy in Knowle West – was not only looking at the here and now but the future for the local community.
The TwinERGY project, currently running in 12 homes mainly in South Bristol, has provided batteries for solar panels and installed sensor technology in homes.
And it is already looking at how giving people the chance to view their own energy data can lead to behaviour change, cost cutting and switching energy tariffs.
One of the participants, pensioner Clive, is a champion for the project – reporting how his last electricity bill – due to watching his use carefully was just £1.88.
But how can this be done on a wider scale to help the community as a whole?
The ultimate aim of the day was to find out what local people would like to see on a community digital information board – which would help transition into a new energy vision for the area.
Future newspaper headlines around energy in Knowle West
To help create the vision – participants in three groups looked at ideas for front pages of local newspapers in five, ten and thirty years’ time reporting on breaking stories in the area around energy.
In five years every house in Knowle West has been fully insulated – with community members trained and upskilled locally at KWMC The Factory to do it themselves as a result of investment – leading to warmer homes throughout the area.
When we look ten years into the future, another group has the whole of Knowle West reaching net zero through collective ownership of their energy. They have achieved this through grants and local people having access to support, with all homes being fitted with heat pumps and solar panels.
Jump ahead to 30 years’ time and there’s a new energy project being trialled in Knowle West creating jobs from a new factory (built on waste land and using unused buildings) – involving energy from wind turbines and poo. This would mean sustainable energy would be kept within local area, made by local people.
Looking at data sharing
For any community dashboard there would be a sharing of data and information for the common good – so the next section with UoB looked at what this meant.
Groups were given pieces of information eg a pound sign and the number 200 – separately they didn’t mean anything.
Marvin from the University told the room: “To do something with data, you need to bring it together and then it will have meaning.”
An example was that to find out about causes of mouldy homes it was important to look at pieces of data together such as temperature and humidity.
An exercise to put labels together to make sense showed that each piece could go with multiple words.
Feedback from participants around data were questions about who is holding or controlling our data. It can be a bad thing if controlled by people with external influence, concern or profit motivation.- eg if you google something this can lead to a number of adverts on your phone.
‘People…. might not have a clear understanding of what is being collected and how it’s being used…’
Feedback also included how older people can feel vulnerble with amount of data collected about them but young people are not so worried. People are also used to having data collected eg from cookies but might not have a clear understanding of what is being collected and how it’s being used eg watching TV – how many people watched the Queen’s funeral.
Bristol Energy Network
A memorable part of the workshop was an inspiring talk by Dave Tudgey from Bristol Energy Network (BEN) – a community energy group he first set up in Easton – helping people get their properties insulated with available grants – and sharing this knowledge across the city.
Just some of the initiatives they have achieved includes starting Bristol Green Doors an event for people to view green and energy efficient homes across the city and share retrofit stories, creating Bristol Energy Coop (community-owned renewable energy) and working with the Lawrence Weston community to create ‘the largest inland wind turbine in Europe’ there.
Dave said: “All these projects started with people in a room writing down what their vision for their community was…
“Go and find out what people are interested in, if they would like an energy audit of their home, find the skills, get info and get project and grant. It’s looking at assets across your community and how to turn them into opportunities…
“It’s about writing your project and approaching local grid to see why you can’t do it. BEN has lots of tools to support …”
Community Digital Information Board
Fired up by the BEN talk – the group then had the chance to see an example of a community dashboard which is being created at KWMC The Factory.
As well as showing what’s on in the building – the board also gives information about the booking system and how to hire equipment as well as transport links to the site.
Filwood Community Centre will have its own bespoke digital information board – and residents will be able to decide what else they would like to see there.
Ideas that came up, inspired by the earlier visions for Knowle West, were seeing the amount of energy being used by the whole community, the number of people with solar panels, what was being generated and savings made.
There was also the hope that neighbours could share the cost of solar panels, storing and sharing excess energy.
Energy champions could train people around the community – so the dashboard could share tips and basic skills on using less energy as well as success stories.
Other ideas included educating people on the different types of sustainable energy, and being careful about the language used. The site should also be ‘bright and colourful.’
“We need the vision for Knowle West so Knowle West can see what is going on, but see it in pictures…” one resident said.
Others felt people were flooded with information all the time, so personal testimonials, passionately expressed would be more effective.
It was also important to show the ‘wider impact’ and saving the environment for future generations.
Participants felt it was important people knew about events happening around the energy vision, and where to buy energy-saving equipment – possibly using QR codes to get vouchers – but making sure the whole community who might not use smart phones also had access to these.
“It makes you think what will happen in the future in the area…”Resident Bev Brooke
Many people who attended the workshop said they had taken away some key learnings from it – and found being with other people who had common interests had inspired them.
Peter Tomson who works on the We Can Make project which is building micro homes in people’s back gardens and on unused pieces of land said he hoped to use some of the information in his work.
He said: “I found it really interesting to learn about Bristol Energy Network and their work. I learned a lot about different generational viewpoints on energy use, a lot of specifics about tariffs and the impact of battery storage on energy costs. ..”
And as a result of the workshop he said he had pestered his landlord “to insulate our loft and to install a smart meter”.
And local resident Bev Brooke said: “…I came to learn more about energy and saving money and to learn new things. I’m interested as a community to know what’s going on and updates.
“It makes you think of what will happen in the future in the area and would it be good or bad. I feel solar panels would actually help everyone in the community.
“I don’t have a smart meter and only have key and card and I rang my company after (the workshop) requesting a smart meter…I now go around turning off light switches and sockets – and before I didn’t…”