CISE work with the Brighton Energy Co-op: When ‘things became more difficult’

Sabine Hielscher writes:

The last blog entry about BEC discussed their start up phase. It was relatively easy to represent this phase in a linear timeline, as one event was followed by the next – they corresponded to relatively discrete entities. As Will already pointed out during the last meeting ‘things became more difficult’ once Danni and Damian joined. The aim was not longer to talk about the project and inspire other but a development phase started up where the nitty-gritty practicalities of a community project needed to be worked out.

During the last meeting Will and I were trying to work out how to frame the upcoming blogs – which was a rather complicated undertaking. The overall aim of the blog seems to be shared: to create something that is ‘useful’ for community energy groups, intermediaries and researchers. However, whilst Will and I worked through the possible framings of the blog – we had to realise that what one might consider as ‘useful’ seems to be a subject of discussion.

This blog therefore builds on the last one, visualising BEC’s journey (see timeline diagram below – double click to enlarge the image) and discussing some of the challenges of creating such a timeline. Secondly, it outlines some of the discussion about how to frame future blogs entries that instigated a reflection on what information might be ‘useful’ for the audience (and in particular community energy groups).

The meeting started of with an exercise – to develop BEC’s ‘learning history/ journey’. A ‘learning history’ is a method for reflecting on a development process, whilst recording it at the same time. The methods is used in the commercial setting to gain insights into innovation processes – companies are able to formulate shared visions and identify key lessons learnt and partnerships. During the meeting with Will, a few issues occurred with regards to the methods: First of all it is not always easy to clearly remember and map out the journey when the person is still involved in the development of the community renewable energy project. Secondly, it seems to be difficult to identify discrete events or periods that where key to the development, as most of the elements (such as the planning of the organisational structure) have occurred at different points in time and over longer periods of time. Will pointed out that these ‘bits have developed in a timeline of their own’.

One might therefore argue that the visual representation (below) does not provide a ‘true’ representation of the journey – as some of the elements do not occur in clear sequential steps. Some of the elements that make up the whole journey overlap. For example, the financial model relies heavily on the organisational structure. Will pointed out that ‘organisational aspects needed to be factored in… if we are going to be a co-op that has different tax implication’. Although some elements of the development were not sequential, Will was able to identify some key events (such as public meetings, gaining investment) and we were able to identify some more ‘discrete’ periods in the overall journey (start up, development time, working towards a public meeting, moving towards a share launch, share launch and installation/ community energy schemes).

We were able to identify various themes on which we could base future blog entries (such as organisational structure, financial modelling, developing share prospectus, getting cash, legal framework sites and marketing plan). We could work with these emerging themes in more depth in each blog or base the blog around the discrete periods or events that we identified. The discussion came up what would be most useful for other community energy groups, wanting to do a similar project to BEC: a blog entry that clearly outlines ‘what they have worked out’ (just like a travel guide) or whether a description of ‘how they have worked things out’ (just like a travel book) would be of more value.

A ‘community solar co-op guide’ would clearly outline in each blog the various elements that potentially make up a successful project. For example, you need this organisational structure – CBS. They are also these other structures that you could choose from. These are the pros and cons for each possibility. What this guide fails to show is (and a ‘community solar co-op book’ would consider): the challenges that had to be overcome, how one thing was connected to another, impacts on the group, lessons that were learnt and partnerships that were created… – the ‘messiness’ of setting up a community energy project. So which one is more useful – the book or the guide?

Finally, we decided to do a mixture out of the two: we will first discuss the identified clear themes – the guide and then set it into the context of the timeline – the book/journey to discuss what was happening at the time and how the themes impacted on each other. We are happy to receive any comments or further suggestions!

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One response to “CISE work with the Brighton Energy Co-op: When ‘things became more difficult’

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