Greenhouse Pioneer: Emma Bridge

Community energy

Community energy projects across the UK are on the rise. Community Energy England, the voice for the sector, now supports more than 30,000 members representing 200 projects across the country. What’s more, Good Energy predicts that by 2020 these projects could reduce CO2 emissions by one million tonnes and cut coal imports for electricity generation by 9% – as well as delivering social and economic benefits for local communities.

To find out more, we met with Emma Bridge, the CEO of Community Energy England, to discuss what drives her, some exciting projects on the horizon and her environmental heroes.

Tell us, in 20 words or fewer, about Community Energy England – what’s your mission? 

To support and accelerate the transition to a fair, low carbon and community-led energy system.

What drives you? 

The people delivering community energy projects. The level of passion, dedication, skills and expertise that people give to community energy projects, often on a voluntary basis, never fails to amaze me.

What is your greatest achievement to date? 

I’d have to say, with my team, getting Community Energy England to where it is now. We’re still a relatively young organisation but we have a strong membership base of over 200 organisations across the country. It has been a rollercoaster of a journey for community energy over the last couple of years, but we’ve been able to help the sector speak with a unified voice, counteract some of the barriers faced and look for new ways to create positive change through communities’ involvement in energy projects.

There is still a lot more I want the organisation to achieve, but I think we now have a strong foundation to create the conditions within which the sector can rapidly scale, so these projects become a normal part of the work of the local communities and companies that support them.

What are the challenges you face?

The frequency and number of regulatory and policy changes over the last couple of years have been extremely challenging for the community energy sector and have contributed to a significant reduction in the number of new projects. There needs to be greater recognition of the social and economic value of community and social enterprise activity when national and local policy is being made.

What are you working on that’s getting you fired up and excited?

We are starting work on the programme for this year’s Community Energy Fortnight. Last year 79 events took place across the UK and we are working to make this year even better. There will be conferences, open days, workshops, social events, podcasts and webinars celebrating the achievements of the sector so far.

The energy system is undergoing the fastest and most exciting transformation in a generation. We need to make sure that this new system is democratic, low-carbon and fair. Community energy is going to be vital in ensuring this happens. Community Energy Fortnight will importantly therefore also be looking at ways to increase our impact, build more partnerships and ensure that people are put at the heart of energy decisions.

Where do you want to take Community Energy England next? 

I want to double our membership so that we can really demonstrate to government and other stakeholders the support there is for community energy and I want to work with our members to grow the sector to the level that every community is given the opportunity to develop and benefit from their own energy projects.

Can you recommend a life- or game-changing book for our readers? 

Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time. It was groundbreaking not only in its content but in helping non-scientists understand fundamental questions about physics and our existence.

What do you listen to when you’re cooking dinner?

I’m a huge fan of podcasts. They are a really easy way to keep up to date with current affairs and to drill down into different topic areas and perspectives. There are so many good ones out there now and they are an excellent way of reaching a wider audience.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given? 

“When things get hard, take a step back.” When you’re trying to tackle something as big as climate or societal change, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed and to think that however much you do it won’t really make a difference. When you get into that mindset all you can see are the challenges. It’s so important to take the time to look back on a regular basis and acknowledge everything you have achieved and to recognise that by working with others what may initially seem like small individual actions soon add up to powerful change.

Can you leave us with who’d be your Eco Hero? 

I spend a lot of time each year thinking about this for our Community Energy Awards and so it would have to be one of the Community Energy Champion award winners. I couldn’t possibly choose between them though.

At Greenhouse, we’ve worked alongside some inspiring change-makers in the energy industry, including Moixa, SmartestEnergy and Northern Powergrid. To discover other leading energy pioneers we’ve spoken to visit our blog, those featured include Stephen Irish, co-founder of Hyperdrive Innovation, and Robert Edwards, founder of Solar Polar. If you are an innovative energy company looking for PR support then we would love to hear from you.