By Beth McAllister – Marketing & Communications Manager at the Low Carbon Hub
The Low Carbon Hub is an Oxfordshire-based social enterprise that’s out to prove that we can meet our energy needs in a way that’s good for people and good for the planet.
Oxfordshire spends around £1.5 billion on energy every year, but the vast majority of that money goes out of the region into the pockets of large energy companies. Not only does our local community reap little benefit from this huge annual spend, but this centralised energy system is also putting excess pressure on our planet by placing profit over purpose.
We exist to change that. We are developing a decentralised, locally owned renewable energy infrastructure for Oxfordshire to put local power in the hands of local people.
We do this by developing our own portfolio of renewable energy projects with businesses, schools, and public sector partners. As of summer 2021, we have 47 renewable energy projects, including 31 rooftop solar installations on schools and the largest community-owned hydro on the Thames at Sandford. We are also in the middle of building the largest community-owned ground mount solar park in the UK. When it’s completed, Ray Valley Solar will generate enough clean electricity to power 6,000 homes.
We raise investment to develop these community-owned renewable energy projects and we’re incredibly proud that we now have almost 1,500 investor members who have all put their money (over £8.3 million) to work tackling climate change and supporting a better energy future.
Community energy is a people-centred movement for change and over the years we have been bowled over by people’s level of support for our work. We know that our investors want to support clean energy, local projects, and do their bit for our overheating planet.
“I invested because I’m concerned about climate change and have a desire to actively contribute to the energy system of the future.” – Investor Member
“I believe that community renewable energy projects can contribute significantly to the country’s resources and help reduce carbon emissions at the same time; both of these are really important for the future.” – Investor Member
At the Low Carbon Hub, we’ve created a powerful feedback loop which makes every pound invested in us go further.
Not only do our renewable energy projects generate locally produced clean energy, cutting carbon emissions, but they also save our host organisations money on their energy bills. For example, our rooftop solar projects mean that schools can spend less on their energy bills by buying the green electricity that the panels produce, leaving them to spend more on education. They can also use the solar panels as an educational tool.
The renewable installations also produce an ongoing income which is reinvested. 100% of the surpluses from these projects go towards funding community benefit projects and supporting carbon-cutting activities in our communities. This includes helping local organisations become more energy efficient, funding green innovation, and backing further community energy projects.
In the last financial year, we delivered over £3.3 million in community benefit. This is a powerful figure. It has allowed us to offer grants to local low carbon community groups, energy audits for schools and businesses, and support innovative energy trials.
This is county rich in action on climate change. We also team up with lots of partners and organisations across Oxfordshire who are working together for a zero carbon future.
These partnerships can help us to unlock additional investment. Our role in Project LEO (Local Energy Oxfordshire), a multi partner project aiming to accelerate the transition to net zero, is enabling us test how our renewable energy projects can offer flexibility to the grid and how we can ensure communities benefit from the transition to the energy system of the near future.
In Project LEO we are working with ten partners across business, academia, local authorities, and energy experts to figure out how we can make the transition to zero carbon energy and meet our carbon targets in a way that benefits us all.
The future energy system is ‘Smart and Fair’
If we are going to stop runaway climate change, we need to make huge changes to the way we generate, store, and use energy. This is the energy challenge we’re facing. Change is already happening as we increasingly heat our homes and power our journeys with electricity instead of fossil fuels. But the energy system is not just about the wires and switches, it’s about people.
We need to make sure that we put people and fairness at the heart of this new net zero energy system. As we progress towards net zero and a more decentralised energy system, it’s important that no one is left behind in the transition. The question is: who will get to benefit from the new opportunities that will arise from our changing energy system, and who will bear the cost?
Enhancing our understanding of what constitutes equity in an energy context, and how to achieve it, is key to Project LEO and our Smart and Fair Neighbourhood (SFN) trials aim to do just that.
“Project LEO provides an amazing opportunity for us to play a leading role in developing the energy system of the future. One that is sustainable for our planet, will ensure the lights stay on when needed and, crucially, is beneficial for our communities.” Dr Barbara Hammond MBE, CEO, Low Carbon Hub
In the Smart and Fair Neighbourhood trials we are working with five varied communities across Oxfordshire to learn about what the energy transition means for them. From how to decarbonise home heating in rural communities, how residents of social housing can benefit from shared solar panels on the roof of their block of flats, through to unlocking the ability to use the clean electricity produced by a hydro locally and how dense urban environments can successfully transition to electric vehicles.
We’re just at the beginning of these trials and we can’t wait to share what we learn.
We look forward to working with our colleagues across the community energy sector and beyond to champion the creation of a zero carbon energy system that is both smart, and fair.
Find out more about Low Carbon Hub: https://www.lowcarbonhub.org
Find out more about Project LEO and the Smart and Fair Neighbourhood trials: https://project-leo.co.uk