Energy Cooperatives and Electric Cars: The Future We Need

Picture the scene in the not too distant future.

A wealthy individual, someone who has financially benefitted from the internet/tech explosion. A kindly, gentle soul with a good attitude toward their fellow earth dwellers, possibly a vegetarian who does a lot of quiet charity work..

So you're a Tesla owner: but are you helping others in your community plug-in to green energy too?

So you’re a Tesla owner: but are you helping others in your community plug-in to green energy too?

However, they have a large house with many solar panels on the southern aspect of the roof.

In the spacious three car garage there’s a Tesla Model S and a Nissan Leaf. Along one wall is a cabinet housing a 50 kilowatt hour battery system which can run the house for a couple of days if there’s a power outage.

This person has invested a great deal of money in house, electric cars, energy saving domestic appliances, power saving lighting and renewable energy and storage.

They can effectively live off the grid and yet still do all the things wealthy people in the privileged world can do.

Along side this picture a slightly different scene just up the road.

Someone with far less income living in a modest apartment with a battered 10 year old diesel car parked on the street and no roof space to install solar panels.

The future of renewable energy is brightest when communities work together to share the benefits.

The future of renewable energy is brightest when communities work together to share the benefits.

Even if they could afford an electric car they can’t charge it at home, they can’t benefit from solar PV/electric car hyper economy, they don’t have room to install large battery packs so can’t store cheap energy to use when tariffs are high.

They are at the mercy of the fossil fuel cartels, the dubious dealings of foreign leaders who can turn off the gas, coal and oil we import to sustain the life we have grown reliant on.

Both these extremes already exist of course but they are both likely to increase in the next few years

It’s not a very rosy picture and as someone who owns a house with a south facing roof, an electric car and solar panels, it’s a possible future that has increasingly worried me.

It’s no longer an argument about if electric cars work or are environmentally less damaging than old fossil burners, the undeniable fact is, once you’ve bought one, you spend less money making it go along.

So if you can afford to buy one you can carry on as you were for less.

However at present unless you have somewhere off the street to park it and enough money to buy a new car, these choices are no more than pipe dreams.

Many wealthy people have already understood that if they buy a Tesla Model S for the same cost as a Jaguar, BMW 7 series, Audi A8 or Mercedes S class, they can save shed loads on fuel costs and end up with a wonderful car that goes faster than all the others.

Not only increasing wealth disparity with the less than 1% more or less having all the money and the remaining 99% making do with the droppings, there is an increasing danger of energy disparity.

That is until recently.

In the past six months I have been busy learning about community energy groups around the country. There are hundreds of them, some in small villages, some in towns, some in large urban areas.

Groups of people from a community get together, form a small community benefit company, install larger scale solar panels, wind turbines or micro hydro-electric systems and the entire community benefits from the electricity they produce.

I’m in the process of setting one up in my small village, the project has huge local support from right across the political spectrum.

Imagine a community where they make their own energy and even have an electric car club to benefit everyone.

Imagine a community where they make their own energy and even have an electric car club to benefit everyone.

Two things are important to remember here, one, it’s not a new idea, Germany and Denmark have been using this method for the last 25 years, and two it’s more about money and energy security than being green or self sufficient.

There are over 100 community energy schemes already up and running in the UK, with over 5,000 in the pipeline.

So I am now going to ask you to imagine another near future scenario. A suburb where the very rich individual with the solar panels on his roof and the Model S in the garage is also involved with and has invested in a community renewable energy scheme. The individual in the small apartment has access to a community owned electric car that has a dedicated parking space with free charging.

Part of the scheme has included a small 4 kilowatt hour battery for every member which takes them off the grid between 5:30 and 7 pm, thus massively reducing the demand from the grid at peak time. These batteries are charged at night or from the community owned solar PV.

If one community did this it would make no difference to the UK. If 100 did, the engineers running the national grid might just be able to register the change in demand. If 10,000 communities followed this path, the entire energy and transport sector would be transformed in ways we cannot currently imagine.

As I always say, it’s not necessarily easy, but it is perfectly possible.

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  • Matt Beard

    This is how to solve one of the biggest problems in electricity distribution – balancing the grid would be so much easier done this way.

  • Nice vision…akin to the E.F Schumacher philosophy to some extent Robert – localise production and consumption as much as possible. As our German & Danish friends have been progressing all this for the past few decades why haven’t we then?

    • Matt Beard

      Unfortunately the reason is that in the UK we seem to be driven by greed too much – or at least those in power are. It doesn’t really seem to matter these days if something is sensible, just what you and your mates can make out of it!

  • Guest

    There is a small error “These batteries are charged at night or from the community owned solar PV.” Current Solar panels don’t work at night to produce electricity 3rd para from the end.

    • Nope 🙂 It’s Either from the grid (at night) or from the solar (during the day) 😉 The important one is OR 🙂

    • EVcine

      Hello ! Batteries !!

  • BenBrownEA

    In the US things are a mis mash… community solar and ev cooperatives are possible in some areas. In other areas there have been moves to quash this before the public even thought about it. I’m informally part of a ev car sharing between neighbors, BUT, my immediate community government (with Michigan state endorsement) signed an agreement with our regional electrical generation company putting severe financial penalities and hurdles on those trying to start a community owned solar project. This year to get a jump, I hear they’ve even started a network of trained/sometimes paid ‘trolls’ to refute the usefulness of renewable energy. They are working to pass a law saying buring tires is an acceptable way to generate ‘renewable power’ while fighting wind and solar developments. Things are getting pretty dark in parts of the US, while comparatively in Europe is a growing light.

    • Mark Bulpitt

      This is exactly why TTIP is a bad idea, we don’t want that sort of anti-democratic agreement here in Europe.

  • leptoquark

    I’ve always felt that an EV can make its greatest impact when the single Mom working at Walmart (as an example) is driving one. Who more than hard-working folks now driving third or fourth hand gas guzzlers at the mercy of gas prices (now somewhat relieved temporarily) need to be driving at 3 cents/mile, like I do in my Leaf? One of the reasons I leased a 2012 Leaf was to start a car going down the chain of ownership, hopefully making to someone who could really benefit by it.nnI’ve now returned it, and I’m leasing a 2014 Leaf, which I will also launch down the ownership chain one day. I wonder if there’s a way to finance EV’s for people so they can start driving at 3 cents/mile right way and pay off the car with a portion of their savings, kind of like the way homeowners are able to pay a reduced net electric rate by leasing solar panels?

    • patb2009

      what you describe are low mileage EV car leases. I’ve known people whontraded in paid for gas guzzlers to get the Volt because the savings in gas paid for the lease. however, i think used is better, I dislike car leases myself.

      • Kenneth_Brown

        I’ve never thought leasing a car was a good move for an individual, but with an electric car, it may not be a bad idea. The technology is advancing rapidly with more models being introduced and improvements in battery/electronics systems. If something like the Gigglefactory does come on line in the next couple of years and can produce batteries for a lower cost, it will translate into cars with better range and a lower cost. By leasing, you are not locked into your purchase for a long term. At some point the improvements will be less with each iteration and it will again be a good time to purchase.

  • patb2009

    if 1,000 communities did this, it might be noticed, if a million communities did this it would rewrite the UK energy system.

  • Where can I find out more about these energy cooperatives?

    • BenBrownEA

      Depending on where you live you can look up community solar, solar cooperatives, solar gardens, energy cooperatives… this should get you started.

  • Heather Smith

    Hi Robert, Great work! I am keen to study community energy too, so I’m six months behind you. I’m planning a world tour of the best examples with a special interest in the smarts and community governance that makes sure these systems work well. What communities would you visit if you were me?

    • Damian Tow

      Brighton Energy Co-op (I am a founder) and Ovesco in Sussex UK

  • Kenneth_Brown

    Having a time of day tariff is a key ingredient. Where I am in California, my price per KW is the same 24hours a day and goes up in tiers the more I use.