Dissertation on Repower Balcombe

From disputed fracking site to renewable energy champion: Balcombe’s green transition towards the decarbonisation of residential CO2 emissions through Community Renewable Energy both now and in the future

Published in June 2021, this is a dissertation submitted by Katherine Finnerty as part of her BSc in Environmental Geography at the University of York.

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The UK’s acknowledgement of the global climate crisis has been manifested through a legally binding target to reach net zero emissions by 2050 across all sectors. Residential emissions, particularly heating and transport, have proven very challenging to decarbonise under the current energy framework in comparison to other sectors. Achieving carbon neutrality for households and transport has been said to require ‘community involvement’ and decentralisation through community-owned renewable energy projects.

This study aims to establish the success of Repower Balcombe, a community-owned solar project, in decarbonising Balcombe’s residential emissions, and the viability and effectiveness of such projects in the energy transition. Expansion scenarios are suggested to aid future decarbonisation. The annual household consumption of electricity, gas, oil, wood, and petrol/diesel was collected using an online questionnaire, and the annual electricity generated from the seven solar projects was established to determine the proportion of residential CO2 emissions that are currently decarbonised by the project.

Results from the questionnaire were upscaled to represent Balcombe village using dwelling type. The annual CO2 emissions from Balcombe were 5,720,107 kg CO2 ± 1,351,559. The results show that the current projects generate approximately 146,859 kWh yr1 of electricity, decarbonising 4.1% of electricity emissions. Decarbonising the other fuels would require Repower Balcombe to expand by x156, assuming the government’s electrification transition goes as planned. Energy produced by ground-mounted solar was found to exceed demand, and when combined with wind turbines, produced sufficient electricity to power a larger EV fleet and heat pumps. Despite the results showing potential to successfully decarbonise residential emissions, decentralised community energy is currently not viable in the UK due to unfavourable energy policy, making capital investment too high risk. However, community energy in Germany and Denmark has also shown that this method of decarbonising the residential sector can be extremely effective in practice.