In Summer 2017, the people of Lewes celebrated the tenth anniversary of their local energy co-op Ovesco by honouring them on the latest Lewes Pound note.
Ovesco was born out of the Transition Town movement and has gone on to develop many high profile community energy projects in the area, including huge solar installations at Harveys Brewery, Brickyard Farm, and several schools and colleges.
Being commemorated on the Lewes Pound is a brilliant visual demonstration of the way that Ovesco keeps money within the local economy, and adds value to the community far beyond the energy systems they install.
Research on spending shows that for every £1 spent with a small or medium-sized business 63p stayed in the local economy, compared to 40p with a larger business.
In contrast to the Big Six energy companies (only two of which are UK owned), community energy groups are rooted in their localities and understand the concerns of residents and stakeholders. You would never find BHESCo or Ovesco, for example, embarking on a project that was opposed by local people, such is the case with fracking plans in Lancashire or oil pipelines in North Dakota.
By embracing the community, and employing local traders and installers to carry out projects, community energy groups are able to support local business and stimulate the local economy. Not only does this benefit domestic job creation, but it has a positive impact on business rates too.
Because community energy groups are owned by local residents, any profits made can be reinvested in developing more locally owned energy projects, instead of being paid out as interest to shareholders. It is also common for community energy groups to channel some of their revenue towards tackling fuel poverty and improving the energy efficiency of cold homes in the area. As well as benefiting individual households, this can also alleviate pressures on local health services as physical and mental wellbeing improve.
In fact, even generating and using energy locally has intrinsic advantages, because it cuts down on transmission losses and is a much more efficient use of the energy produced. In addition, creating a local supply network (such as residents of the Brooklyn Microgrid have recently achieved), insulates a community against external price increases and even possible power cuts.
In all of these ways, whether its creating jobs, reducing bills, or improving health, it is very clear that keeping it local has tremendous benefits for creating an independent and resilient community. When services and insitutions are owned by and run by the people they serve, they will inevitably be responsible, democratic, and sustainable.
Our advice? Act local, join your community energy co-op ASAP.
07 Sep 2017
Earlier this year, Community Energy England produced the UK’s very first ‘State of the Sector‘ report, highlighting the emerging influence and importance of community owned energy in 2017.
The community energy movement has witnessed tremendous growth over recent years, now boasting 222 organisations throughout the country, which can collectively generate 121MW of clean renewable energy. That’s enough to power 85,500 homes, and has reduced carbon emissions by 110,000 tonnes since 2002.
The emergence of this new type of energy ownership and generation is in keeping with a wider transformation of our energy supply.
We are in the midst of a seismic shift in the way we use and consume energy. Developments like electric cars, smart grids, battery storage and demand response will make a huge difference to our relationship with energy by making it more local. Community groups are perfectly positioned to be at the vanguard of this revolution.
Their drive, commitment and local insight provide an ability to put into practice emerging market developments, while the trust associated with being community owned can be vital for encouraging the uptake of new technologies such as smart meters.
In an era of increasing devolution, it is fundamental for communities to invest in initiatives that will improve resilience. As well as generating energy independently (and reducing transmission loss), community energy creates local jobs and keeps money in the local economy. A 2014 government strategy paper on the subject observed that:
“Putting communities in control of the energy they use can have wider benefits such as building stronger communities, creating local jobs, improving health and supporting local economic growth.”
The age when coal and nuclear power dominated the supply market is over. The gigantic power stations and reactors required to generate huge power outputs that travel for thousands of miles through the wires of the National Grid will soon be history . With access to affordable generation technologies like offshore wind and solar power, coupled with battery storage, heat pumps and a more effficient use of energy, we, as communities, are truly able for the first time to seize control of our energy future.
In countries like Germany, 35% of all renewable energy installations are community owned. Our future, here in the UK is also community owned.
Let’s work together to make this happen.
As part of our work providing energy advice we often meet residents who have electric storage heaters installed their homes. Regrettably, it is less often that we meet anyone who is happy with this system.
Storage heaters are notorious for releasing heat when its not needed, and then having no energy left when it gets cold. Thankfully, a new technology called the ‘VCharge Dynamo‘ is hoping to end to this dilemma, offering a reliable way of releasing heat when its needed the most.
Electric storage heating was invented as a way to make use of the surplus energy generated by nuclear power stations at night. The idea is to charge a storage heater using electricity that’s offered at a discounted rate from 12am-7am (called an ‘Economy 7’ tariff). The heater can then be set to release heat when its needed later in the day.
Unfortunately, the reality rarely matches the concept, and many residents complain that the system overheats first thing and then runs out by evening, leaving them freezing at night. However, with VCharge this unreliability will soon be a thing of the past.
Described as a ‘retrofit technology’, VCharge is fitted to existing storage heaters to allow accurate temperature control when needed. The automated system uses cloud-based control to maintain a level of comfort determined by the resident, which can be even be programmed by phone, tablet, or laptop.
And best of all, because the device is cloud-connected, it can intelligently make use of cheap daytime electricity prices that result from the increasing levels of renewable energy generation.
The manufacturer estimates that the VCharge Dynamo can reduce energy consumption and fuel bills by 20%, on top of providing reliable warm homes for residents.
The scheme has already been successfull piloted in Newcastle, and now BHESCo and Community Energy South will be trialing the technology in Sussex.
If you’re in Brighton & Hove and live in a large tower block that has storage heaters, we’d be intersted in hearing from you.
Give us a call on 01273 766 671 or complete our Contact Form.
11 Apr 2017
‘Warmth for Wellbeing’ was a pioneering 15 month fuel poverty intervention project that lasted from January 2016 – March 2017. Funded by the British Gas ‘Healthy Homes’ programme, the project was supported Brighton & Hove City Council and involved 13 partners from the community and voluntary sectors across the city, including Citizens Advice, Money Advice Plus, and BHESCo.
As of March 2017, the programme had provided direct support to more than 555 households, with BHESCo delivering 220 free home energy surveys and helping residents to save an estimated £34,000 on winter fuel bills!
The Universities of Brighton & Sussex were asked to provide an independent evaluation of the project, and concluded that Warmth for Wellbeing had a significant impact on the lives of vulnerable people living in cold homes in Brighton and Hove.
Paul Bramwell of Citizens Advice and lead co-ordinator of Warmth For Wellbeing, said that “the project has clearly reached some of the most vulnerable people across Brighton & Hove and it is pleasing that we have been able to help people who need it.”
BHESCo were acknowledged by clients and project partners alike as being a cornerstone of the project’s success, and were recognised as demonstrating a level of ‘care’ from an energy service provider that stood out as being in distinct contrast with how people are ‘normally treated’ by energy companies.
The full report can be viewed here.
Find out how to reduce your fuel bills and energy use by visiting our Energy Saving Service page.
23 Mar 2017
“I wouldn’t want to be the MP in Parliament who voted to oppose Hinkley C”.
With a very concerned look mixed with fear, this quote comes from an insider in the Halls of Power of the Energy Industry. Yet he works for a company that has chosen to put at the heart of its strategy the preparation and facilitation of the transition to a distributed network. This, in essence, is a bet on the proliferation of local renewable energy generation, and a move away from the inefficiency of centralised power stations. A distributed network is needed when there are lots of energy generators installed on rooftops, in the hills, in the sea and under the streets of our cities, towns and villages.
BHESCo estimates that there is almost 50GW worth of applications for battery storage facilities wanting to connect with the 8 Distribution Network Operators and the National Grid. This is about 10 times the power generation capacity of Hinkley C and Moorside combined, at a fraction of the price to the taxpayer and to future taxpayers. Granted, this is an emerging technology, as yet without a track record, however in the 10 years it will take for these nuclear power plants to be operational, battery storage will have become mainstream. As Steven Holliday, former CEO of the National Grid, announced in 2015, “base load power is obsolete.” Base load nuclear power is wasteful, where at present 60% of the electricity produced is lost in conversion, transmission and distribution.
Despite pleas from over 160 organisations, this year’s national budget includes a ‘Solar Tax’ collected in the form of business rates. If you own a solar array less than 50kW, the value of your property for business rates will be increased by the nominal value of the solar array on your roof. This will have enormous implications on small businesses that have become solar generators because the tax is most likely to approximate or exceed any benefit that they receive for the free electricity from the sun. Because any investment in energy generation requires a certain return in order for investors to commit their hard earned cash, a business rates tax on solar arrays eliminates any incentive to accelerate our transition from fossil fuels by investing in generating your own electricity. The ‘solar tax’ is an intentional assault on free power from the sun as, for example, gas combined heat and power systems have been exempt from business rates since 2001.
Now consider the subsidies for investors in shale gas exploration, or ‘fracking’. This subsidy comes in the form of tax breaks called Enhanced Capital Allowances that permit firms that are investing in shale gas exploration to deduct the cost of the equipment directly against their taxable income, in many cases virtually eliminating any tax due. For companies like Centrica, who are a large investor in Cuadrilla, these tax breaks run into the millions  . Other similar tax breaks will be enjoyed by Ineos, who intend to invest £168 million in shale gas exploration (which at 40% tax relief, amount to £68 million) or IGas who invested £16 million in equipment in 2015. Nuclear power on the other hand costs the taxpayer billions each year for transport, storage and decommissioning of existing power plants alone, before we even being to count the cost of constructing new ones such as Hinkley C and Moorside, as each of these proposed plants are being constructed using unproven technologies. Simply put, the “solar tax” is an assault on the little guy, just another addition to the unfair tax policies that protect the 10% and burden the 90%, in this case, small businesses.
For anyone who believes that we must take responsibility for our energy supply now for the sake of our climate and our energy security, we wonder: what is the difference in tax receipts for the Treasury if the money comes from the clean energy industry or from dirty fossil fuels or nuclear? Or do we really want to spend our money as taxpayers supporting a government that is afraid to make the decisions that we need to ensure that we have clean, affordable energy in the future? Wouldn’t we rather ensure that our schools have sufficient funds to properly educate our children, or that the NHS continues to thrive as an accessible customer service focused health care system?
Join the fight today by writing to your MP, signing an anti-fracking or anti-nuclear petition, or becoming an investor in Community Energy. Make sure that important decisions about our future are made from a position of courage, not fear. Mostly make sure that you are informed, as such short sighted changes to tax legislation will have long term impacts on our quality of life.
 www.greentechmedia.com energydesk.greenpeace.org