The Rural Energy Challenge
As part of the development of the Rural Design Centre, we identified some initial opportunities to start working even before the Centre is properly established. We’re doing this through working with partner organisations to identify and solve rural challenges using design thinking. Our first piece of work is around the rural energy challenge.
What are the energy challenges facing rural communities and how might we develop sustainable solutions?
Decarbonising the rural areas of the UK is a unique challenge. The scenarios faced by rural communities and businesses are much more varied than in urban environments. Fuel poverty is higher, they’re often off the gas grid, digital connectivity is lower, transport options more limited, amenities and services are in decline and finance and skills are harder to attain for businesses. Despite this, rural areas are often diverse and dynamic, proving great places for people to live, work and visit.
Rural areas need to be included in the push for decarbonisation, which has a tendency to focus at urban environments to date. Meeting current and future energy and decarbonisation challenges in rural communities will require the design of innovative solutions.
The Energy Catalyst
The North East is home to a large and varied rural area, ranging from market and seaside towns to the largest remote rural area in England, hosting a diverse rural economy. The region also has internationally recognised energy innovation and demonstration capabilities, which have recently been united through the North East Energy Catalyst partnership.
The Energy Catalyst brings together public, private and academic partners, with support from the European Regional Development Fund, in order to fully network these capabilities and showcase solutions to global energy challenges in the North East. The partnership will support this innovation challenge, ensuring any potential solutions are connected into the wider regional energy innovation ecosystem.
What are the decarbonisation challenges facing rural North East England communities and how might we develop sustainable social, technical and financial solutions?
Rural areas may have less emissions and more negative emission opportunities, but access to affordable, secure, and renewable energy should be for everyone via an integrated, flexible, and equitable decentralised energy system.
The North East’s Energy for Growth
The North East’s Energy for Growth strategy identifies various energy opportunities and challenges, with unique implications for rural geographies. They include provision of affordable, secure and sustainable off-grid energy, energy efficiency in hard to treat domestic or commercial premises, transitioning to low emission transport in remote locations, deployment of decentralised sources of energy, provision of geothermal heat from disused mine workings, energy storage and flexibility, and developing community-led energy projects.
We want to discover and define current and future challenges faced by rural communities as they decarbonise, and help develop sustainable innovative solutions through engaging with communities, researchers, public and private sector partners who are interested in the theme.
Who are we targeting?
This challenge is particularly targeted at community organisations and businesses that are:
- Already developing and delivering innovative solutions to the rural decarbonisation issue and want to do more;
- Have identified a challenge or opportunity that they need support to develop further;
- Not even thought about what decarbonisation means yet but are keen to explore opportunities.
In addition, we want to include the thinking of researchers, experts, designers, innovators, technologists and anyone else with an interest in the field. This will help to bring different perspectives to the challenge and ensure any new solutions are rooted in reality.
How might solutions progress?
The North East Energy Catalyst partnership is supporting the innovation challenge and delivery of this workshop session. The Catalyst will help ensure that the strongest ideas which are supported through development, are connected into the region’s comprehensive energy innovation and demonstration ecosystem.
We will also be outlining a number of potential routes to support the commercialisation of ideas by local organisations, such as grant funding from The Rural Community Energy Fund for feasibility projects, other local and national grant schemes and private finance.
We can also provide 1:1 support and matched grant funding for development of the strongest ideas, including through funding from the European Regional Development Fund. All funding and support is subject to eligibility criteria being met.