We tend to think that the history of progress is a linear one. As a consequence, fears around the extra stress that developing countries may add on our planet as their economies and energy needs expand appears justified. However, the concept of leapfrogging offers an inspiring alternative perspective: instead of following the West down the same path of fossil fuel dependency and consumerism, developing countries can learn from the winning strategies, ditch the destructive ones, and skip ahead to become leaders in sustainability. Technological advances make leapfrogging very possible: for example, many developing countries completely bypassed the infrastructure-heavy landline phone of the 20th century and skipped directly to widespread mobile phone adoption. Through leapfrogging, developing countries can avoid the most environmentally harmful stages of development and self-determine their own trajectory towards a sustainable future by jumping straight to distributed, agile and clean micro-grids. The West can help by sharing technology, providing financing, and participating in broad coalitions for systemic change.
A micro-grid is a localised network of renewable energy producers, connected to an energy storage and load management system. Micro-grids allow communities to become independent from the national energy grid, increasing community resilience, boosting the local economy, and empowering regular people to democratically decide where their energy should come from — without having to wait years until the national grid offers them the option to have 100% clean and affordable power. Community-owned energy is often organised in cooperative structures, which can democratically control the energy, produce it efficiently, and keep its jobs and profits local.
Small-scale solar systems, typically sited on rooftops, are booming from Germany (with 1.5 million solar home systems) to Bangladesh (with more 3.6 million). Whether grid-connected or off-grid, they offer the world a new vision for hyper-local, clean electricity generation that's in the hands of everyday people. Becoming a small energy producer can be an incredibly exciting journey towards resilience and self-reliance, as well as cost-cutting. What's more, in areas of the world where the grid is inaccessible (due to high energy prices or lack of infrastructure), localised energy production offers an affordable and immediately deployable way out of poverty and energy insecurity for "last-mile" communities.
Moving away from fossil fuels is the single most crucial solution to climate change: that's why a massive acceleration of the shift towards clean power is needed across our energy grids. It's very important to modernise our national energy grids and rapidly increase the share of energy they source from renewables, while decreasing and eliminating reliance on gas, oil, and coal. It's particularly important to make clean power technologies the default option for any country investing in building any new power grids. This must also be combined with cross-border trade in renewable energy, to allow connecting areas with a surplus of renewable energy with areas of the world where solar, wind or geothermal may not be as reliable or abundant.
Earthshot Prize finalist SOLshare are an incredible example of how effective and life-changing energy empowerment can be to communities. They have created the world’s first peer-to-peer energy exchange network, allowing any household to buy and sell their own energy. This provides low-income communities with a new source of revenue from the sun, while being able to power their lives with reliable clean energy! SOLshare is an example of exceptional climate innovation made in Bangladesh, applicable to any country in the world.
Jon Lovett, Professor at Leeds University, tells us why micro-grids are the next big thing in energy transition infrastructure, and points to collaborations across the UK and Africa that are providing the evidence.
Start from this booklet explaining everything you need to know about how community renewables work in Europe, and sharing practical steps and resources for action.
We the Power is an inspiring and exciting introduction to the citizen-led community-energy movement in Europe, and you can watch it for free on Youtube.
Write to your MP asking for their support for the Local Electricity Bill, which is currently being discussed in the House of Commons. The Local Energy Bill would allow community energy producers to sell the energy they generate back to the people.
If you have 3+ hours to spare weekly or monthly, volunteering online or in person to assist a project can make a huge difference. All skills are needed, so don't be shy and pop an email to your local project! If you're based in London, we recommend the wonderful team at SELCE (South East London Community Energy)
Buy shares in new energy projects and finance the installation of clean systems to power communities, businesses, and high-impact organisations (like schools, NGOs, farms etc.). Join a global community of investors for social and environmental good and earn from the clean electricity these projects generate!
Switch your electricity provider to one that is sourcing their power from a community energy project. In many countries, like Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Ireland and the UK, local energy communities collectively sell power to customers across the country, so check if there's one available in your area!
Check out this complete guide to residential solar generation in the UK. The guide takes you through everything, from the pros and cons, to the types of solar panels, best systems and how to find the right supplier and installer.
Switching to a clean energy supplier couldn’t be easier, so you can be an active part of the clean energy revolution in just a matter of days! We’ve put together a list of resources to help determine the best supplier for you.
At the heart of community energy projects are the principles of local ownership, local engagement, and local leadership. If you're inspired by the idea of bringing your community together and waving goodbye to expensive dirty energy for good, then head to REScoop.Eu — Europe's key resource and network for energy cooperatives, full of info on how to start new ones!
Benson's work is powered by the belief that innovation should be community led. The social enterprise he co-founded, Zuhura Solutions, pioneers ingenious solutions at the nexus of clean energy and food security to empower people at the base of the pyramid.