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Community Energy Planning

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An approach to Integrated community energy planning

Prepared by Paul Kenny (Tipperary Energy Agency, Alex Hamilton (3 Counties Energy Agency) and Gearóid Fitzgibbon on behalf of SEAI, for the SEC Handbook chapter on Integrated Planning.

This chapter on integrated community energy planning assists the Sustainable Energy Communities (SEC) network’s objective of developing the “energy skills” of its members, and complements the SEC Handbook. Integrated planning is one of core skills for the establishment and sustainability of your SEC. For more info see

Aims and Objectives

This chapter focuses on what is appropriate to the scale and ambition of the SEC member. The aim is to simplify community energy planning for local volunteers, whose scarcest non-renewable resource is their time! and build their skills to identify appropriate community solutions in their own area. In many developed countries Energy Planning is a mainstream function of government, both local and national. It is not the aim that this should replace or do the mainstream work of local government energy planning. Here the objectives are to:

• Share useful approaches to building your community energy project, where community engagement and participation is critical
• Share knowledge on the development of you community energy plan

We also keep in mind the following aspects of community action:
• Local Benefit – Local value generation is the key motivator in community action
• Knowing the limits of volunteer input – it is important to know when to get the professionals involved!
• Relationships are important! Keep your team happy, meet somewhere comfortable, drink tea together, be nice!

What’s involved?

Your energy plan is a roadmap to get things done in a safe and efficient way. The following sections look at a number of stages of community energy planning:

1. Mobilising, Mapping,Networking and Linking– these actions take place throughout your project, as part of the “Learn, Plan, Do” steps of the SEC Journey. They are a continuous cycle.
2. the Energy Plan funding application (to SEAI)
3. the Energy Master Plan (funded by SEAI)
4. Events to assist your community energy plan
5. Conclusion and References

1. Mobilising, Mapping,Networking and Linking

The aim of your community energy project is to get things done. For this to happen, you get clear on what you want, you understand the project stages, you see what links can be made with other policies and partners. The ‘integrated’ approach’ is the best way to achieve this. We simplify this approach into 4 elements: mobilising, mapping, networking and linking:

Mobilising- Who is this “we” of which we speak? Who is in the Room?

In your initial phase, it is important to have a look around to see “who’s in the room” and what they can contribute. Be realistic about what you can deliver. Are there any other people who could/should be invited to assist your SEC? Are there local business owners? Members of Tidy Towns group, educational centres, service providers, other community volunteers, local forestry groups or owners? What other skills and local resources are available in your community?

Mapping – to create involvement

A key part of a community energy planning process is the mapping of all the local resources, individuals, groups, businesses, plans & policies, that may be of relevance.
Questions to ask may be:
• Are there local educational programmes of interest? Social Studies, Environmental Science etc.
• Make a list of useful local, regional, or national bodies e.g. Local authority, state services, etc.
• What are the key companies/institutions in your area e.g. Agri, hospitality, retail, hospitals?
• What contacts (personal or professional) has your community with local institutions / businesses/ potential supporters? Figure out the key players and how to rope them in!
• Find out relevant local plans and policies (e.g. Economic/ Social Inclusion /Area plans)

What else does your community have to offer? As well as mapping the skills and resources of the people in your area, you should try to map what needs your community has and which areas are the most crucial for an energy transition. Identify if there are specific potentials and local resources that could be developed to benefit the community. This could be restoration of buildings, improvements of services, electric transport, renewable energy businesses or project ideas etc.

Networking – Learning from Others

How can you make your community project easier? Make use of your local resources throughout your planning process and learn from the experience of other groups and projects. It is important to make contact with other groups and learn from their experiences and outcomes. Pick up the phone. Seek out peers from community members of the SEAI Sustainable Energy Communities network. What challenges have they overcome? What obstacles can be avoided? What types of finance did they avail of?

Linking – Finding Support

Time is a very scarce for busy local volunteers. Therefore, scour your local area for supports that help your group achieve its aims. Ideally the group can source someone to work part or full time on building the energy project. The case study of the Drombane Upperchurch Energy Project, Retrofitting the Local Economy, found that significant voluntary hours were required by members of the community to achieve the success that they attained. In fact, the equivalent, on average, of having of a person employed for 19.5 hours per week for a full year, with a value of €18,000. (Byrne, 2014)
• There are many established community development programmes which can provide great support to your sustainable energy community. Research what development programmes, services and local supports are available in your area.
• Ideally, the Local Development/LEADER Companies in your area should be able to match your project with specific work placement schemes e.g.
TÚS Work Placement Programme,
Rural Social Scheme (RSS is a community work programme for small farmers and fishermen),
Community Employment Scheme (CE is an employment training initiative with work placements in the community).
• The Public Participation Network (each county has a PPN which is a representative and co-ordinating body for all community and voluntary groups. Your SEC should join this).
• Volunteer Centres – your local volunteer centres. Volunteer centre staff can help find local volunteers for one off tasks or longer-term placements with your organisation.
• Boardmatch is an online matching service for community and voluntary groups to help you find board members.
• Business in the Community (BITC) – BITC can find you a pool of business or corporate volunteers in your area.
• Local Energy Agencies – Independent energy advice for your project (not present in every county.
• Local Authority – support can be obtained from the Environmental Awareness Officer, as well as the Local Enterprise Office.

Tips for Engaging with local bodies
Some basic homework should be done before engaging with local bodies, whether state agencies or local groups or potential funders. This will help you be clearer in what you are seeking, and enable to establish more quickly how this can be done.
• Do your research. Understand what the specific group you are approaching has to offer: What is their job description? What are they employed to do? Do you fit the bill? Think about what you have to offer them?
• What might be common objectives?
• Seek common objectives/opportunities with potential partners
e.g. GAA committee, Credit Union, schools, businesses, other voluntary groups
• Each has their own rationale for becoming involved, or not!
E.g. Local school – saving money, green schools.
Sheltered Housing group – saving money/health benefits

2. The Energy Plan Funding Application

In preparing your Energy Charter, and Energy Plan funding Application, get assistance from your SEAI mentor to:
– Decide what scale and focus you want for your EMP and what resources you have to dedicate to it.
– Gather together the data required and get help to complete the EMP application

By the time your group submits the final draft of their Energy Plan funding application for, you should:

• Have a good understanding of the EMP and are clear what they can get out of it
• Have enough people on the SEC committee – to share tasks and responsibilities
• Have enough money in place to cover the costs, given that SEAI fund retrospectively
• Have identified how many buildings, households they wish to target, and/or some specific possible initiatives e.g others
• Have identified what sectors to target
• Have good community engagement, have plans to engage the community and are seeking to leverage support from others e.g. the local authority, local business and industry
• Up to 20% can be used for community engagement directly related to the energy master plan as long as the purpose and benefit of it is clear.

Things to note:
The Energy Master Plan is not for the purposes of auditing one or two buildings – there should be a wider benefit to the community, involving as many energy users as possible. However, it’s fine to start relatively small – you can become more ambitious as you go. The Energy Master Plan isn’t for feasibility studies of specific technologies.

3. The Energy Master Plan

Getting things done
Getting things done is the aim of your project. Your Plan should help achieve that aim. Consider what is your picture of success? What would an early win look like?
The energy plan needs to balance short- and long-term goals. To get things gone, it helps to consider the following:
● What is the willingness to invest in energy efficiency?
● What is the willingness to volunteer with your Community Energy initiatives?
● How many people are interested in availing of grants?
In making your 1, 2, or 3-year plan, be realistic on what you want to achieve. You may also need to need to do further research on some of these points. Your energy plan can be an excellent tool for promoting your project objectives, and mobilising the wider community.
The following “Getting Things Done” factors should be reflected in your EMP action plan:
Deciding Your Delivery Mode
• Find a delivery model appropriate to your SEC
• Will it be fully Community-Led? Corporate led? A Partnership? Implications for governance?
Start-up Funding
• How will you pay for the costs of local marketing and PR for your initiative? (Flyers, Facebook adds, etc)
• How will you access start up finance? How will you pay for SEC/BEC application (if the project is community led)?
• Who will be lead applicant/project coordinator?
Co-ordination and Governance
• How will you ensure oversight and accountability?
• Will the project co-ordinator be accountable to your steering group?
• Will there be transparency on the finances?
• Will there be confidentiality on sensitive information collected during the project?

What should your energy plan do?
By the time you come to carry out your Energy Master Plan, you should have a clearer idea of what you want your energy plan to do for your community. Your discussions and research should help to produce a clear and realistic Request for Quotation. A good plan should create consensus for action within your community. The SEAI-funded Energy Master Plan should:
● Highlight energy use – (the energy baseline that your community can measurably improve on)
● Find priority areas & identify energy upgrade work which can be carried out
● Produce measurements required for further energy upgrade work and/or generation
It will also produce the following:
● “a baseline of sectorial energy usage, current energy sources and energy-related CO2 emissions for the study area.
● a register of opportunities for the reduction of energy demand and the transition to renewable energy supply”
As part of the baseline energy analysis, your energy planner may look some or all of the following:
● Overall energy consumption – using mapping tools
● Energy in Buildings – Residential, Municipal, Business
● Lighting – Domestic & Business, public lighting
● Heating and Cooling
● Agriculture/Fisheries
● Transport
● Demand Management measures
Your Energy Plan should also consider:
● Future Energy Demand
● Electricity Production, feasibility of District Heating, Biogas etc. (where relevant).

Carrying out Energy Audits
Your Energy Master Plan can also cover the cost of a number of local Energy Audits. These audits will help give a more detailed analysis of representative sample of buildings.
It is important to apply clear criteria deciding where to carry out these Energy Audits. For example:
Which community buildings are in particularly energy inefficient?
Which community buildings has the potential for the greatest energy uplift?
Is the community building management/steering group keen to invest in an energy upgrade?
Does the community group/facility have a wide reach in the community?

The EMP Step by step
The following are the key steps that your external consultant will carry out in producing the Energy Master Plan
• Desk study – high level assessment of energy use in the community. Who uses what energy, when, how, where and why.
• Energy audits and BERs – this will provide more detail to the desk study
• Community survey (e.g. for transport or energy awareness)
• Establish energy baseline – based on findings from desk study, energy audits and survey.
• Develop Register of Opportunities
• Action plan – what are the next steps and how will they measurably improve their energy baseline year on year

3. Events to assist your Community Energy Plan

You may also decide to host some local events to assist your community energy plan. These may include:
Community Planning Workshops
Host community discussion events to review local assets, challenges and goals. For this you can get support from local development workers, or energy mentors.
Topics for discussion can be:
• What are your local natural assets? E.g. wind, rivers, acquires, waste heat, biomass, solar sites?
• Which of the key energy themes are most relevant for your community?
• What kind of a plan do you want?

Other Community Planning Follow Up events

These events provide ongoing opportunities for networking & building community awareness. You can link them with the rollout of your Energy Plan. These events can be arranged around the following themes:
– Speakers & Case Studies – focus on priorities identified in your Energy Plan: Energy Efficiency, biomass, Solar, Wind
– Energy Clinics/Workshop
– Research visits

4. Conclusion

Resources to Follow up
• SEC Handbook, Resource & Funding database
• SEAI Energy in Business Free training for businesses
The Wheel/EPA Sustainable Communities Funding and Governance Handbooks
• Census 2016 map tool
• Energy Master Plan and Energy Mapping tools
Funding sources
● SEAI Community Grants programme
● Leader Grants
● Local Authority grants:
LA 21
● Agriculture schemes:
Department of Tourism, Transport and sport: (energy efficient lighting for a local pitch) – European network of Community Energy Projects

Byrne, N. T. (2014). Retrofitting the Local Economy – a case study of a community-led Energy Efficiency Scheme. Nenagh. Retrieved from

Gannon, G. (2018). Energy Master Plan Review 2018. Internal document from Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland.

SEAI. (2018). Sustainable Energy Communities Programme Handbook 2018 Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland.