Wednesday 12th September 2012
'Working together' and 'translation of effective monitoring and evaluation' were two of the key messages coming from the International Energy and Communities conference hosted by the EVALOC team on Wednesday 12th September 2012 in Oxford.
The main aim of the day was to share, discuss and learn from both international and national experiences in the field of energy and communities. The one-day conference was convened by the OISD's Low Carbon Building Group, Oxford Brookes University and the Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford, to examine the role, effects, impacts and limits of low carbon communities in motivating energy reduction and renewable investment amongst local residents.
Eighteen expert speakers and just over 60 delegates came together at the TS Eliot Theatre, Merton College, Oxford to discuss the current opportunities and challenges facing community energy action. The delegates were from community organisations, practitioners and academic researchers. The conference sessions were chaired by Professor Ray Ogden (OISD, Oxford Brookes University), Professor Rajat Gupta (OISD, Oxford Brookes University), Professor Jon Fink (Portland State University, USA) and Dr Nick Eyre (ECI, University of Oxford. Morning and afternoon sessions heard expert international speakers discuss the different approaches taken in the USA, Austria, Sweden and India towards sustainable low carbon community development. Key themes coming forth from these sessions were the complex nature of the change process, and the intricate balance between top-down and bottom-up activities. The need for collaboration between community organisations and universities was highlighted as a ‘benefit for all’ approach; a ‘reality-check’ for academics, such collaborations can also bring expertise and knowledge to communities that was previously lacking.
Parallel workshops in the afternoon, chaired by Professor Brian Ford (University of Nottingham), Dr Sarah Darby (ECI, University of Oxford) and Dr Nick Eyre (ECI, University of Oxford) each with three expert speakers in the relevant fields allowed further discussions on:
Learning from monitoring and evaluation of low energy housing refurbishments
Researching and evaluating low carbon communities
Engagement opportunities for communities in the forthcoming Green Deal programme
1: Learning from monitoring and evaluation of low energy housing refurbishments
Attended by just over 20 delegates, it was clear that data on existing household energy use is now forthcoming but with this the challenge of curating the data and separating the ‘need to know’ from the ‘nice to know’ needs to be faced. A further challenge highlighted was data privacy and ethics; in order to understand energy use, the context cannot be relinquished raising some interesting questions that need to be answered. Finally, the importance of pre-retrofitting, and its role in customer acceptance of low carbon technologies/energy saving measures was emphasised.
2: Researching and evaluating low carbon communities
22 delegates attended this workshop which centred its discussions around the role of community and the translation of results to local residents. Professor Roy Alexander presented interesting results from the Blacon Energy Saving Programme that seemed to suggest that whilst ‘gizmo’ technology did not reduce energy use dramatically, simple behaviour and awareness programmes did have an impact on household energy use. The different types of community were also discussed, with the need for ‘identity’ identified as a key motivator for community involvement. Finally, the need for effective evaluation of community energy projects was debated particularly in relation to combining government targets and community requirements; it was clear that communication and engagement with community organisations is vital to creating a usable evidence base and sustainable learning tool for low carbon communities.
3: Engagement opportunities for communities in the forthcoming Green Deal programme
Attended by 34 delegates, the third workshop centred itself around ‘what is the Green Deal?’, the challenges in launching it and the uncertainty felt around it. There were discussions into the Golden Rule, its viability and what strategies could increase the uptake of Green Deal packages by householders throughout the UK. The actual role of the community organisation was also debated – as catalysts of change within their communities they are perfectly placed to help create awareness, and even perhaps deliver Green Deal packages. Yet they are uncertain as to what it entails, and where they would stand in terms of finances.
The closing plenary was a farewell to Dr Paul Rouse of the Economic and Social Research Council, and a discussion on the future opportunities of community energy action with Chris Church of the Low Carbon Communities Network. An active panel discussion was held in the closing plenary to discuss and debate the future of community energy action and the collaborative partnerships required to help community energy action flourish in the UK. The conference was closed by Professor Rajat Gupta, chair of conference and leader of the EVALOC project.
Comments and feedback
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