Independent utility Co-op Energy is looking to boost its portfolio of community energy generators by as much as one-third over the next three years.

The supplier already purchases electricity generated by 40 community-owned generators and has set its sights on taking this portfolio to 60 by the end of 2020.

And the company, part of the Midcounties Co-operative, is to also support the trial of local ‘time of use’ tariffs to incentivise the use of locally-sourced energy in communities.

Mark Billsborough, head of renewable energy at Co-op Energy, said that community energy projects were a “fantastic demonstration” of local projects in action.

“Projects like West Solent Solar and the Schools Energy Co-operative have proven that they can have a significant impact on the nature of energy generation, both in their own communities and in the UK, and we are committed to helping the sector to grow.

“Our support for community projects and the volunteers that drive them is unique, but we believe there is potential to take them to even greater heights if people continue to work together,” he said.

Last year residents of Wadebridge, North Cornwall, were offered the chance to switch to a so-called ‘Sunshine Tariff’ to take advantage of the high concentration of solar PV in the area, under which they were offered a significantly cheaper off-peak daytime tariff of 5p/kWh.

However the tariff failed to deliver tangible benefits to those who registered for it as a result of a lack of interest, and DNO Western Power Distribution concluded that homeowners were not able to shift enough demand to offset the required grid upgrades.

Nevertheless Emma Bridge, chief executive at Community Energy England, welcomed Co-op Energy’s announcement.

“We of course applaud the exciting commitments to increase usage of local energy generation and the trialling of time-of-use tariffs, but it's also great to see a supplier wear its membership of Community Energy England and REScoop so proudly and pledge to lobby for good.

“After a period of rapid growth, community energy now faces a number of hurdles in the UK and so the launch of this new strategy from Co-op Energy is a timely and significant boost,” she said.