Bristol Community Energy: Catalyst Fund
Supporting the development of community-owned and driven sustainable energy projects in the Bristol area
Project duration: February 2011 to February 2012
Between 2011 and 2012, CSE administered a Bristol City Council scheme to support the development of community-owned and community-driven sustainable energy enterprises in the city.
The Bristol Community Energy Catalyst Fund was set up as a £50,000 revolving fund to help community projects make the transition from a well-thought-through idea, to a successful working enterprise. It grew from a recognition that access to finance and to expertise are often the main barriers in the way of realising successful community energy enterprises.
The fund provided access to finance to help community based enterprises and projects break through key business development hurdles such as:
- costs for professional expertise
- legal documentation
- market research
- technical analysis
- feasibility studies
- financial modelling
Launching the fund, Councillor Neil Harrison, assistant executive member for sustainability, said: "The Council has a strong strategy for renewable energy production and energy efficiency, but no organisation has all the answers. We want to see a diverse and flexible approach to energy in the city and this includes seeding new grass-roots community-led organisations."
Simon Roberts, Chief Executive of CSE, said: “The idea behind the fund is to invest in community groups and provide the catalyst that will help them turn their sustainable energy ideas into viable enterprises. Bristol is a hotbed of practical community based sustainable energy action and this fund is bringing new projects to life.”
Three groups were successfully awarded funding, and for two groups which are now well established co-operatives it was exactly the springboard they needed to get going with exciting community energy projects that have gone from strength to strength since 2011.
As a result of the funding, Bristol Energy Co-operative was able to lay the ground for a very successful community solar PV scheme. Funding helped to cover costs entailed in setting up as a co-op, identifying suitable community buildings, carrying out structural surveys, and establishing legal documentation. Plans have now been turned into a reality of "building a local ‘power station’ on Bristol rooftops", with solar arrays installed on community buildings (including Hamilton House and Knowle West Media Centre). The installations themselves were financed through a share offer. The money earned from generating solar power will be put back into future projects to support energy efficiency improvements and more renewable energy schemes, including a possible wind farm.
The Saxon Road Green Space group had garnered a huge amount of support locally and carried out research to develop their plans for a local sustainable energy scheme as far as possible, focussing on AD as the one they felt most suitable to meet local needs. They used funding to procure an 'options assessment' for energy efficiency and renewable energy in St Werburghs. In the end, this professional assessment led to them deciding to go in a different direction. However the expertise was exactly what was needed and ultimately helped to save precious time in the decision making process, meaning that volunteer effort and energy could be channelled into other things.
The third award was made to Streets of Solar, and focussed on solar PV installations for householders in the Lockleaze area of the city, particularly for those who might not otherwise be able to afford to fit solar panels themselves. Funding was used for marketing and publicity, to help engage residents, and to help establish a sound business model. Although the number of installations was lower than planned, local awareness of energy issues was greatly increased and the project has formed the basis of a more ambitious city-wide rollout currently being set up.
More about the project set up
Awards were made over two separate rounds of funding, and investment decisions were made by a fund board comprising representatives from key Bristol institutions. Successful projects had to meet key funding criteria, including demonstrating clear community benefits and being community-led initiatives.
To support applicants, CSE organised and delivered two training and advisory workshops. These workshops, both evening events, were well attended and featured practical exercises, revolving table discussions, and ask-an-expert sessions.
Bridget Newbery presented the workshops. "The sessions were an excellent opportunity for community group members to consider different elements of funding, finances, public engagement and legal issues relevant to their community energy project," she said. "They were also attended by people from community groups who are interested in setting up a community energy project but not yet ready to apply to the fund – demonstrating the depth of interest in the subject in Bristol."
Applicants were asked to treat the funding award as an investment to be repaid from the early success of their project or enterprise, so that the fund could be replenished over time, providing future funding for other community initiatives. To further support the community energy sector across the city, successful projects have been sharing their experiences and knowledge with other community organisations.