Do you have any trouble with seagulls?

On Friday 25th January, Sabine, Jin and Adrian Smith (writing)  attended a meeting organised by Hanover Action for Sustainable Living in Brighton. Over 60 people squeezed into the Hanover community centre to listen to neighbours discuss opportunities for solar energy in our homes.

After some scene setting in terms of feed-in-tariffs and solar energy basics from local installers Southern Solar and Solar Trader, we heard from two local households who had installed solar electricity and solar water heating in their homes. Clare and Paul explained their experiences and answered our questions. Some participants in the audience contributed with their own experiences of installing solar energy too.

A third resident discussed switching to green energy supplies, for those who cannot afford their own energy generation. He reflected upon his bewilderment at the shades of green (and grey) offered by different utilities; all of whom, he discovered, are regulated to supply an increasing proportion of renewable energy anyway. He wondered whether the best thing was to invest in local sustainable energy, and a representative from Brighton Energy Co-operative was on hand to explain their scheme for doing precisely that. There was a lot of discussion in small groups afterwards, as people asked more specific questions and dropped money in the collection bucket.

This was the kind of community energy meeting that takes place in many localities up and down the country. The act of coming together and sharing experience has a value in itself. Sharing know how about everything from which insurance companies give discounts for households with solar energy, through to getting perfectly good performance from roof spaces not facing south, through to dealing with seagulls on the roof (important in Brighton), or getting the utility to make pay for your electricity exports.

People were invited to join a new solar club for bulk purchasing discounted equipment and services. Some may have been encouraged to do so through face-to-face discussion with neighbours, and with experts on hand but not on top. Obviously, others will not. But they might go along to the screening of ‘Age of Stupid’ next week at the pub nearby. Or they will tell friends about the meeting last night. In multiple ways and through countless meetings, they can help contribute to a culture more open to sustainable innovations. This is a long-standing form of community energy that is impossible to render instrumental and whose pay-back is incalculable.