This London street is a power station

The ‘two loops model” helps me understand how things are changing around us. It shows how the dominant system developed and then starts running down; and as that happens, alternatives start to develop. It is a life cycle view; a way of understanding where we are in terms of the change from one paradigm to another, and it helps explain why things might seem confused and confusing.

Another way to think about it is to visualize the ‘tipping point’ – at which things that originally seemed really innovative end up becoming the accepted model. When Malcolm Gladwell wrote about this, he talked about ‘early adopters’ – the people who see innovation and adopt it early. Some people today might call those folks ‘influencers’.

I am always interested in looking for these people, the ‘early adopters’, because they are the trailblazer who show us where we are all going to go in the future.

I mention this to introduce the fascinating story of the English couple, and their neighbours, who have decided they want their street to become a solar power station. I read the story in the Guardian, and then subscribed to their newsletter, because I am intrigued by how Dan Edelstyn and Hilary Powell think. They are people who, as their neighbours say, make things happen.

They are artists and filmmakers, with two children, Esmé, 12, and George, 10, and two dogs. They live on Lynmouth Road, in Walthamstow, in northeastern London.  “It is a street that has a sense of community,” says Hilary. “That became apparent with the Covid mutual aid group that was set up.” 

Back in 2018, they set up a project they called Bank Job, in an empty bank building on a main street in Walthamstow. They printed artwork that looked like bank notes,using pictures of people from local community projects. They raised £40,000 by selling the art. Half the money went to the local groups; they used the other half to buy £1.2m worth of high-interest debt owed by local people, thus cancelling their debt. They packed the paper records into a gold-coloured van and blew it up on wasteland outside Canary Wharf. Their documentary came out in 2021.

Power Station  is also a “show-and-do project,” says Dan. “We’re learning as we go and we’re sharing it as we learn it.” A sentence from their pandemic reading – economist Ann Pettifor’s book, The Case for the Green New Deal – stuck with them: “Every building a power station.” 

(“The idea [of the Green New Deal] was developed in Britain in 2008 on the understanding that finance, the economy and the ecosystem are all tightly bound together,” she wrote. “Protecting and restoring the ecosystem to balance cannot be undertaken effectively, we argued, without the transformation of the other sectors. Joined-up policies are needed. Financing the hugely costly overhaul of the economy away from its dependence on fossil fuels cannot be achieved without the subordination of the finance sector to the interests of society and the planet.”)

And they wondered – could their house become a power station? Could their street become a grid? But, as it turned out, linking the whole street together, powering it for free, and managing it as a cooperative was almost impossible – because not everyone, as it turns out, fully own their own roof.

The surveys are just wrapping up and the panels should start to go up in January, the Guardian says. But there is a feeling of great bottom-up neighbourhood energy already, even before any solar panels arrive.

“When society is organised from the top down, you feel reliant on the government to change things,” says Pippa Evans. “But if you have brave individuals who stand up and gather other people around them… We can stand up for ourselves, we can do things ourselves.”

“We can be powerful, us, the people who should be powerless,” says Dan. “We do have the power to change things.”

In the meantime, they have worked on a crowdfunding project to install solar panels at their local elementary school, and this week, they reached their target. 

“We are planning to use this money to buy solar panels for the school, this will save us thousands a year on our energy bills – money we can use to better educate our children. The price for our solar system will be around £60,000. Any extra that we have we will use directly for improving our other school facilities, including switching to LED lighting in order to save more money – and to cover the deficit budget we have had to set due to the effect of cuts to our income.”