UMaine Researchers Create U.S. Community Renewable Energy Website

ORONO, ME – A database of over 6,000 community-based renewable energy projects nationwide developed by University of Maine researchers is now publicly available via the Internet. The website will aid those interested in pursuing group, shared, municipal, or non-profit energy projects to connect, learn from each other, and help projects develop from the bottom up.

“Community energy is a growing movement in the U.S. and around the world,” says assistant professor Sharon Klein of the UMaine School of Economics and lead scientist on the project. “People are adopting sustainable energy technology and strategies—renewable energy, energy efficiency, conservation—in groups and/or on shared property in contrast to the traditional individual adoption.”

The U.S. Community Energy Website (USCEW), which was developed through a grant from the UMaine Senator George J. Mitchell Center for Sustainability Solutions, provides a centralized knowledge base of existing projects and contacts that can support research and reduce barriers to and improve opportunities for community renewable energy.

Community renewable energy, including solar, wind, geothermal, hydropower, and biomass, emphasizes the importance of meeting growing energy needs of present and future generations while addressing social, environmental, economic and technological challenges.

Traditional renewable energy regulations, policies, and programs in the U.S. often focus on individual choices operating in isolation. However, approaches that consider collective action and the complex relationships between individuals, technological information, and social institutions, may be more effective at advancing widespread renewable energy technology because they build on the power of shared knowledge, trusted networks, and existing communities.

“Now that the website and associated database are publicly available, we hope people with direct knowledge of community renewable energy projects will add new project information or correct information on projects already in the database to keep it growing, accurate, and current,” says Klein. She adds, “We want people to login and get involved, not just look at the site.”

The site’s homepage has links to Projects, Statistics, About, and a Glossary of various terms used throughout the website. Projects, which lists all 6,334 community renewable energy projects currently populating the site, can be sorted and filtered to differing levels of specificity. The Statistics page allows users to filter and visualize data as maps, graphs, and charts.

From the homepage, visitors can create a free account and login to add a new project or request access to update information on an existing project. This is a key feature Klein and her team are hoping people will use to keep the website current and growing. Registered users can also download the full data set into a spreadsheet.

Notes Klein, “The great thing is that the website will become more and more robust as people login and populate it with their specific project information.”

The site currently has a Facebook link and more social media options will be added over time to help people connect with individuals and information that can help them start their own community renewable energy projects.

By David Sims, Mitchell Center for Sustainability Solutions