man in white dress shirt and blue denim jeans sitting on white and black solar panel
Photo by Bill Mead on Unsplash

In 2019, in Camden we became the first council in the country to hold a Citizens’ Assembly to shape our climate action.

One of the 17 recommendations made to us by the citizens was a call for more solar on buildings across Camden.

We are fortunate to have the volunteer-led organisation, Power Up North London (PUNL), here in Camden. PUNL is a Community Benefit Society and stands in the long tradition of seeking co-operative solutions to issues facing communities.

PUNL deliver community energy projects, including solar, by identifying opportunity sites – such as local NHS buildings, schools, or churches – which can host solar PV. They also carry out lighting audits of community buildings and help organisations switch to lower energy LED lighting.

It works by PUNL issuing Community Share Offers which enable local people to buy shares and get the projects funded and built out. At Camden, we have worked with them to install a solar array on Hampstead Secondary School and at Talacre Leisure Centre in Kentish Town. Investors are able to donate back to PUNL what they make on their shares.

Getting solar panels on the roof of a building sounds simple enough – but each location inevitably throws up legal and other complexities that need sorting out. Camden Council staff, including legal officers, and PUNL’s volunteers deploy their expertise to get these carbon-saving changes introduced.

We also use grant funding from our Camden Climate Fund Community Energy Fund in support of projects.

Working with PUNL allows us to deliver on the participatory approach that is core to Camden’s climate programme. It provides a brilliant way in for the community to have a financial stake in the zero-carbon transition, and to feel a sense of satisfaction as they see the installations go up.

Decentralising energy is vital to creating greater resilience in our communities as the impacts of the climate emergency become manifest.

There remain some big policy blockers to enabling community energy to scale. Power for People are leading a campaign on this and mobilised considerable support for an amendment to the energy bill, which unfortunately did not pass. Fixing this could be a quick win if Labour comes to power at the next election.

Finally, local authorities around the country benefit enormously from the work and dedication of Community Benefit Societies. If you’d like to learn more and find out what is going on in your area – or if you’re interested in setting up something new – check out Community Energy England.