Unleashing Community Energy: reflections from BEN’s annual conference

On Saturday 24th June, Bristol Energy Network welcomed guests from across the Community Energy sector for our annual conference, with the theme ‘Unleashing Community Energy’. In this blog, we’ll look back at some of the key themes discussed during the conference. To view the list of speakers, and session summaries, click here. Thanks again to our sponsors the University of Bristol Business School, Bristol City Leap, and OVO Energy, who made it possible to bring together key stakeholders, experts, and passionate community members to spend then day learning from each other.

One key theme was the urgent need for new models across our energy system. Of course, community energy groups have been experimenting with alternative approaches to funding, development, and distribution for many years. But to scale up community energy at the pace required, these new models need to become mainstream, and have the understanding and support of large scale actors – such as National Grid.


Faithful Chanda, Development Engineer for Community Energy and National Grid, spoke about the Grid’s decarbonisation plans and role in facilitating connections for community energy projects. He also summarised the recent Access Significant Code Review (ASCR) which changes the burden of costs for electricity generators, facilitating reinforcement.

Councillor Kye Dudd spoke on behalf of Bristol City Leap, and reflected on how the Ambition Lawrence Weston turbine showed how finance and planning structures urgently need to be updated to enable community energy. He emphasised that simply following existing finance and planning requirements would have meant the failure of the ACE turbine: but that as a result of accepting different conditions and considering social value rather than solely commercial value, the project was able to proceed.

The Cannes-award winning Bottle Yard rooftop solar array, funded by Bristol Energy Cooperative, owned by Bristol City Council and backed by WECA investment, was also cited as examples where a partnership model helped achieve outcomes that would not otherwise have been possible. Professor Palie Smart, from University of Bristol Business School also spoke about innovation models and how the Ambition Community Energy project is inspiring other projects overseas as well as across the UK.

©Mark Simmons

This international inspiration, and the community energy leadership coming from Bristol and the wider West of England region were another key theme. From the ACE project to the Bristol Green Capital Local Community Climate Action Plans and the foundation of Retrofit West by the Centre for Sustainable Energy and WECA, attendees from outside Bristol noted how much their own regions learned from our own., while Laura Fogg-Rogers, an academic from UWE, highlighted the ENERGISE West project, which is seeking to connect climate action groups from rural communities across the wider region.

As well as these two themes, which appeared throughout the days’ speeches and workshops, developing and supporting community resilience was also a key subject for the day. Jenna Willcox, from the Centre for Sustainable Energy discussed the recently launched Community Retrofit Guide and emphasised the role of community groups in increasing capacity for retrofit. Jenna’s presentation focused on how community groups are ideally placed to support the retrofit effort, with greater levels of trust than other entities, embedded local knowledge and pre-existing engagement and partnership ways of working. Workshops on community buildings and the Bristol City Leap community energy funding plans also touched on resilience and how long-term benefits can be built into community energy planning.


Through engaging workshops, talks, insightful discussions, and a visit to Englands tallest onshore wind turbine, the conference fostered a collective vision for a sustainable and community-led energy future that we can all get behind. Hope to see you there next year!

©Mark Simmons

Our thanks to volunteer Katy Barney for helping to prepare this blog.