Wadebridge Renewable Energy Network (WREN)

WREN is determined to transform the energy economy in its own area and to show other localities how easy it is to take control of the second biggest resource that they have. Their biggest resource is themselves and their determination for change.

8,300
Est. number of people
who benefit directly

Our story

WREN was founded on a very simple premise: each locality can transform energy from an individual cost to a collective asset. The money local residents spend on energy tends to dribble out of a local town’s economy through individual energy bills. People do not experience this economic leakage as a collective resource, which makes no sense: in Cornwall, as in many other parts of the UK, we have some of the best renewable energy resources in Europe, including sun and wind.

WREN is primarily a catalyst for local economic resilience.

Prevailing centralised energy arrangements, where individuals are passive recipients of centralised supply, are bad for local economies. Current arrangements may seem normal, but it is worth remembering for what a brief blink of history they have existed. As recently as the 1930s, many towns had their equivalent of our own Wadebridge Electricity Supply Company.

Wadebridge uses some 50,000 MWh/year of electricity. Our original target was to reach 100% of energy from community-owned local sources, but we fell short when the DNO stopped taking new connections. WREN undertook the pioneering Sunshine Tariff Project with Western Power Distribution, Tempus Energy and Regen to see whether an offset connection to the network for a solar farm was feasible. Sadly, the trial showed that although domestic consumers can shift some of their summertime electricity demand to the middle of the day, not enough can be shifted to make an offset connection viable.

WREN achieved considerable success in facilitating energy efficiency measures, solar PV and low-carbon heating in the local community, and built a 100kW solar farm powering a local sewage treatment plant.

Our various programmes and our position in the community bring in significant benefits through community funds as well as save people money on their energy bills. WREN is a social enterprise, owned by its members, with a one-member-one-vote structure. All benefits above running costs go to community investment and community projects.

Our latest project is called ‘Energy Equality’ and we are once again pushing the boundaries of community energy by conducting a feasibility study to develop new solar PV generation installations and peer-to-peer electricity trading. The first is well established technology – putting solar panels in open space or on rooftops to generate electricity.

Peer-to-peer trading is new. It will enable people in the community who generate electricity, such as from their domestic rooftop solar panels or the new installations mentioned earlier, to trade their surplus generation with others in the community who do not have their own generation. The people selling would be looking to receive a better price than from commercial outlets and the people buying would be looking to pay less than from a conventional supplier. The feasibility study is assessing the economic and social viability of the concept. Watch this space!

What have you learnt that others will find most useful?

  • Generate – be ambitious in your target to generate the energy needed in your local town using renewable energy resources. It is possible to imagine a new form of prosperity in our market towns based on local energy markets.
  • Reduce – help reduce energy demand in existing properties as a vital part of tackling the economic drain on the local economy.
  • Retain – keep money currently spent of fuel bills in the local economy through community ownership, a community fund and inward investment.
  • Engage – talk to local people and create understanding, making energy saving mainstream. If people understand the possible benefits of renewables then you can have a more mature discussion. It is entirely possible to turn citizens into people who believe we are not helpless but active agents in a future that is ours to make.
  • Replicate – ensure the process can be repeated elsewhere and subject it to academic evaluation.

Measures of success?

Percentage of energy supplied from local sources. Money saved on local energy bills. Funds raised for reinvesting in the community.

Read more: https://www.wren.uk.com/

Kevin Smith
Wadebridge Renewable Energy Network (WREN)