For this year’s Community Energy Fortnight, we’re taking a look at the link between football and community energy, with a vision for clubs across the country to connect with their local community energy organisation to tackle energy costs, reduce carbon emissions and deliver community benefits.
The UK’s energy price crisis has set alarm bells ringing across the country, and football is no exception.
Ahead of the 2022/23 season, the Isthmian League allowed clubs to bring forward Saturday kick off times to save energy used on floodlights, with Mansfield Town being the first EFL club to trial this approach later in the season.
A survey conducted by Fair Game, 63% of clubs polled said they would consider earlier kick-offs to help reduce energy bills.
Meanwhile, the Football Foundation launched a new Energy Support Programme to help clubs become more energy efficient and save money.
There are many other steps that clubs can take to reduce their energy costs and carbon impact, though options can feel difficult to navigate and potentially require significant financial investment.
Can community energy be an important part of the solution? In recent years, several pioneering football clubs have partnered with their local community energy organisations to deliver renewable energy generation and energy efficiency schemes at their stadiums.
Community energy refers to community-led renewable energy, energy reduction and fuel poverty initiatives.
Community energy groups are local, grassroots organisations, often volunteer-led or charitable, who work on a broad range of energy-related activities, such as setting up and operating renewable generation projects, or supporting homes and businesses to reduce their energy demand.
The goal of community energy organisations is to tackle climate change by decarbonising energy locally, to reduce fuel poverty in their community and increase the local economic benefits of energy. This is one way of achieving what is known as a ‘just transition’, making sure everyone can benefit from a fairer, greener future.
The typical model of community energy is to re-invest revenue from their renewable generation projects into local community initiatives, energy advice and support for people living in fuel poverty.
Community energy organisations, in contrast to some commercial energy companies, have their community’s long-term interest at heart, with environmental, social and local economic aims.
Football clubs who share this long-term community focus can therefore make attractive potential partners for community energy groups, who have expertise in energy advice, renewable energy projects, energy efficiency measures and fuel poverty alleviation.
Some community energy organisations may be able to offer free installation of solar panels, selling the electricity they produce to the host at a discounted rate, ideal for clubs that own their ground.
The fan-owned community club, which compete in the English non-league pyramid, were enticed to install the panels after being contacted by fellow social enterprise Egni Co-op. The project was a triple win for the Martyrs, as partnering with a community energy co-operative could support the club’s social, environmental and financial needs.
The project initially took longer than anticipated due to Merthyr Town’s lease agreement on their ground with the council, but once this was resolved, installing the panels took just three weeks. Egni Co-op provided the investment needed for the installation, and now supply electricity to the club at a discounted rate, with another supplier providing their energy when the panels aren’t generating, for example during an evening game.
Upon completion of the project, Rob Davies from Merthyr Town said, “We were interested in working with Egni Co-op, as like us they’re a social enterprise. Tackling climate change and reducing our energy costs are very important to the club. We are delighted with our new solar panels from Egni Co-op. We hope solar power will provide even greater footballing energy for the Martyrs. We look forward to the sunlit uplands of the future!”.
The club continues to explore options with Egni Co-op to reduce their energy consumption and make the most of their solar generation, including looking to install LED floodlights, battery storage and electric vehicle charge points in the future.
Initiatives have included funding for a new heating system from the council, an energy audit at Blundell Park and a grant for energy saving equipment such as LED lighting.
The Mariners continue to explore the possibility of solar PV on their stadium, with support from Grimsby Community Energy.
The installation meets a significant proportion of the electricity demand of the stadium, which hosts a number of teams including Castle Vale Town FC, Concords FC, Romulus FC and local schools
The 147 kW installation resulted in the club saving around £6,000 per year on their electricity bill and also benefiting from ongoing maintenance of the panels from Brighton Energy Co-operative.
The connection came about when on the the co-op’s installers, a fan of the Stones, suggested that the club could benefit from a free solar panel installation.
As it turned out, the club owner and board needed little persuasion and liked the idea of working with Brighton Energy Co-op from an early stage. This enthusiasm and proactiveness were key factors in the project being a success, along with the fact that the club owns its stadium, and the solar installation could benefit from receiving the Feed-in Tariff, although this government subsidy for renewable generation is no longer available.
Community Energy England continues to advocate for a range of policies from government to support community energy in the absence of the Feed-in Tariff, which reflect the social benefits of community-owned projects. These proposals include an Urban Community Energy Fund, specific Community Feed-in Tariff, and measures to incentivise local authorities to buy their energy from community schemes
Football clubs in England and Wales can locate their closest community energy organisation, see more about their services and get in touch with them using Community Energy England’s national map.
Community Energy Scotland’s members directory is useful for clubs north of the border.
The first step is to get in touch with your local group, discuss your club’s energy needs and see what support they could offer.
Support may range from basic energy advice to full solar panel installation, with plenty of options in between.
Energy efficiency measures are among the most comprehensive ways to address both energy bills and carbon impact, by reducing the amount of energy required.
LED floodlights are an effective measure for football clubs to reduce their electricity use on matchdays, being up to 90% more energy efficient than traditional halogen floodlights, while away from the pitch, measures such as draft proofing and insulation can reduce the amount of energy needed for heating in buildings at the stadium and training ground.
The programme consists of an Energy Fund, targeted at energy-saving measures for clubhouses and pavilions, and a Floodlight Fund to support the installation of LED floodlights.
The Football Foundation has also published practical guidance on how clubs can become more energy efficient.
A direct way to save on energy bills and carbon for a football club is by having renewable electricity generation installed directly on to the club’s site, such as solar panels on the stadium rooftop.
Alternatively, electricity generation can be installed off-site, but directly connected via a ‘private wire’.
One key challenge for football clubs looking at installing solar panels at their stadium may be low electricity demand during a typical day. If energy is not usually being used at the time that it’s generated, and unless there is also a battery to store the electricity to be used when needed, then solar PV may not be viable for clubs, or for the community energy organisation to install them.
Yet the energy price crisis has meant that high energy export prices, and the opportunity to work with electricity suppliers who offer special community energy tariffs, such as Younity, could open the door to this for more clubs.
Signing up to a renewable energy tariff is the simplest way for most regular energy users to make their consumption greener, and are readily available from many electricity providers.
These tariffs can vary in the extent to which they support renewable energy, and how much a consumer can be confident that the energy they’re using is actually coming from renewable sources.
Furthermore, the energy price crisis has disrupted the market significantly, with many suppliers going out of business and limiting options to switch supplier.
A Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) is a direct legal agreement between a generator of electricity and a purchaser of electricity, usually long-term contracts to sell and buy renewable energy generation at an agreed price.
Many energy consumers, including businesses, don’t have the long term certainty to enter into a PPA, as the generator will often require at least a 5 to 10 year contract to get the renewables built. However, this does present a unique opportunity that football clubs have over many businesses when it comes to buying electricity in this way, due to their longevity, meaning that a guaranteed price for electricity over the long-term could be attractive for both parties.
Written and researched by guest author Ky Hoare.
With thanks to Vicky Dunn, Rob Davies and Matt Brown for sharing their experiences and insights for this piece.
Community Energy Fortnight (CEF) is a UK-wide campaign involving hundreds of organisations, aiming to make community energy activities visible within the local community and showcase the potential of the sector to stakeholders, policymakers and the rest of the country. CEF 2023 runs from 10 – 23 June.
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