As part of the ‘Community Volunteer Project’ of the Sustainability and Management MSc programme, I was lucky enough to intern at Forum for the Future, an international sustainability NGO, and work on key community energy projects.
Now, I must make a guilty admission (or two): before my internship, I didn’t have a clue who Forum for the Future were. But this all changed from August 2014. After accepting the role as the ‘energy intern’ at Forum, I was able to focus on an area that hugely interested me – sustainable energy. But during my time there, I was introduced to so many unique and inspiring themes around sustainable energy, including the nationwide phenomenon of grassroots, localised community energy projects.
Now for my other shameful confession: I didn’t even realise that community energy was an actual ‘thing’. But it is a thing! And a very good thing. A thing that is occurring across this country, and further afield. ‘Community Energy’ refers to how local communities can work together to implement grassroots energy projects that provide low-carbon solutions to their energy needs. Some academics and policy makers highlight this as a potential avenue to reduce the world’s dependence on fossil fuels; currently 87% of global energy is sourced from oil, gas, or coal, a characteristic that prominent environmental commentators, such as Naomi Klein, argue must change.
At Forum, I was fortunate enough to help manage their flagship sustainable energy project: Community Energy Fortnight (CEF) 2014. As the name suggests, CEF is a fortnight (in September) where community energy projects are celebrated. Forum, in conjunction with other NGOs, leads the CEF by synchronising community energy groups from across the UK to simultaneously host events during the Fortnight. With over 140 events occurring nationwide, CEF 2014 was dubbed the “world’s biggest celebration of community energy”.
I contributed to the promotion of the Fortnight through enhancing its online presence; from publishing blogs, to managing Forum’s social media channels and utilising the social media software ‘Hootsuite’, I actively helped expand CEF 2014’s outreach. In addition to this, I helped develop an interactive map of events’ locations. Finally, I helped evaluate the success of CEF 2014 by designing a SurveyMonkey online questionnaire and getting event hosts to respond. Scholars highlight the growing stature of the online realm for community energy, often providing a fundamental platform for community groups to share ideas and experiences – my time at Forum certainly contextualised this.
I also began working on Forum’s upcoming sustainable energy project: Farm Power, which explores how British farms may be able to diversify as sites for renewable, low-carbon community energy schemes. In addition to liaising with Forum’s organisational partners, I researched potential funding options for this new project.
Overall, interning at Forum allowed me to develop a variety of professional and independent skills in a friendly and supportive environment. More importantly, however, it gave me the chance to interact with, and experience, core issues on the ‘front line’ of the sustainability industry – a dynamic and fluid sector. Ultimately, both projects developed my understanding of how crucial grassroots sustainable energy schemes in the UK – and around the world – can be (and have been) in instigating genuine positive change, in an effective and viable manner.
Combining this experience with my studies, it was made apparent that the ‘community energy’ model is working to a certain degree of success around the world. For example, in Denmark, approximately 85% of wind turbines (that’s 2,000 in total) are community-owned and provide Denmark with 35% of their electricity needs!
Based on my internship and work I have done subsequently on the MSc, my postgraduate dissertation is investigating how – or if – the community energy model can be replicated in the UK, focusing on London as a case study.
MSc Sustainability & Management student, RHUL
The content expressed in this blog are my own personal views and opinions. Many thanks to Forum for the Future for providing me this opportunity