Innovative Low Carbon Heating
For Firle Village

How did the project in Firle get started?

Brighton and Hove Energy Services Co-operative (BHESCo) is working with the Firle Estate to create an affordable, low-carbon heat network for this village outside of Lewes in East Sussex.

BHESCo initiated the project in 2017 by approaching the Estate Manager with a proposal to conduct a feasibility project on how to decarbonise heat for the village. We obtained grant funding from the Rural Community Energy Fund to conduct the project

At present, most properties in the village rely on fossil fuels as a source of heat, usually heating oil or liquid petroleum gas (LPG). Burning these fuels releases carbon-dioxide, a key contributor to the climate change crisis, as well as other toxic air pollutants, like particulates, sulphites and oxides of nitrogen.

A special report by the United Nations concluded that the world must reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2030 to stand any chance of limiting global heating to 2oC above pre-industrial levels.

    What were the reasons for starting the project?

    A 2018 special report by the United Nations concluded that the world must reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2030 to stand any chance of limiting global heating to 2oC above pre-industrial levels.

    At present, most properties in Firle rely on fossil fuels as a source of heat, usually heating oil or liquid petroleum gas (LPG). Burning these fuels releases carbon-dioxide, a key contributor to the climate change crisis, as well as other toxic air pollutants, like particulates, sulphites and oxides of nitrogen.

    Because of the economics of oil and LPG vs gas, as well as the predominance of fuel poverty in areas off the gas grid, BHESCo’s strategy has been to support these villages with a compelling financial and environmental proposition.  There are thousands of rural towns and villages in England in the same situation, so our focus has been on developing a replicable solution that can be easily adopted by other communities.

    The way we heat our buildings is one of the UK’s key contributions to the climate crisis, being one of the most complex challenges to solve in a way that is fair and affordable to residents. Success in Firle, with the knowledge we’ve gained to scale up activities, could have far reaching impact on reaching the UK’s carbon reduction goals.

      investing in renewable energy - removing fossil fuel oil tanks from Firle Village
      Most homes in the rual village of Firle are heated using heating oil, as pictured above, or by using Liquid Petroleum Gas (LPG) .The UK Government's Clean Growth Strategy (2017) has a stated intention to phase out this type of heating in order to achieve its binding carbon reduction targets.

      In 2017 the UK Government unveiled its Clean Growth Strategy which set out its vision to reduce pollution and climate harming emissions. A key policy proposal was to:

      Build and extend heat networks across the country, underpinned with public funding (allocated in the Spending Review 2015) out to 2021

      Phase out the installation of high carbon fossil fuel heating in new and existing homes currently off the gas grid during the 2020s

      (The Clean Growth Strategy 2017; Leading The Way To A Low Carbon Future, p.13)

      For the last two years, BHESCo have been exploring designs for heat networks to power the village with locally sourced, community owned clean energy,  encouraging village residents and the Estate to play their part in achieving the nation’s Net Zero goals.

      We expect that the project will bring significant benefit to all homes and businesses in the village.

      The primary aims are to:

      Funding for the research and development phase of this project has been provided by the Rural Community Energy Fund (RCEF) grant administered by the Greater South East Energy Hub.

      Work to begin on the first seven properties in Firle to transition to low-carbon heating

      BHESCo will soon be commencing work on the first seven properties in Firle which will serve as a pilot project for the rest of the village.

      Beginning in mid-to-late July, we will be improving the energy efficiency and heat retention of these properties through the installation of measures such as cavity wall & roof insulation.

      The upfront cost of these improvements will be met through a community share offer. We are seeking to raise £215,000, with investors being offered an annual rate of return on their investment of 3%*.

      It is our intention that once the energy efficiency of these seven properties has been improved we will commence with the installation of a low-carbon heating system to replace the existing oil heating.  

      How is BHESCo transforming these properties to reduce their environmental impact?

      BHESCo is pursuing a “fabric first” approach, improving the energy efficiency of each home, ideally to an EPC of C to deliver our goal of clean, affordable heat. 

      Each home will then be fitted with an 8.5kW Air Source Heat Pump to provide hot water for space heating and domestic use.  The ASHPs will be fitted with remote monitoring devices to enable them to be tuned to the individual usage patterns of the residents.

      We estimate that the combination of energy efficiency measures plus air source heating will reduce annual carbon emissions for these seven properties by 25.6 tonnes per year (equivalent to planting 423 tree saplings).

      daikin air source heat pump - montessori place - brighton hove energy services co-op
      A 7kW Daikin air source heat pump that BHESCo installed in 2018 at the Montessori Place School in Framfield.

      How will switching to low-carbon energy affect heating bills for the residents?

      Residents will switch from paying annually to fill their oil tanks to a monthly charge for the clean heat to be generated by this innovative delivery system, through a heat supply agreement with BHESCo.

      Once the first seven properties have been improved and Firle residents can be confident that the technology is proven to deliver reliable and affordable heating,  we hope to proceed with a similar transformation of all properties in Firle Village.

      We believe that this pilot project will serve as a valuable model for the hundreds of other rural communities across the UK who are faced with the similar challenge of decarbonising their heat and power. Firle has an opportunity to become a leading example of low-carbon living, where all properties are made as energy efficient possible, and where each home is heated from 100% local, renewable sources.

      What are the key delivery partners saying?

      “The UK Government is supporting its stated intention to phase out the use of high carbon fossil fuels as a heat supply by extending this grant to BHESCo through the South East Energy Hub.

      This project will demonstrate how air source heating in a rural village will provide a cost-effective source of highly efficient, clean heat for residents to replace their dirty oil boilers.

      We hope that the knowledge gained by this project will be useful for rural communities around the country to follow the example set by Firle Estate, who also want to transition from fossil fuel to zero carbon in a way that is affordable and supportive of their residents.”
      Kayla Ente - CEO Founder - Brighton Hove Energy Services Cooperative (BHESCo)
      Kayla Ente
      CEO & Founder of BHESCo
      “The challenge of keeping homes warm while not exacerbating the climate crisis is one we must all take up. If this also presents the opportunity to reduce pressure on household budgets too then it is something we should all support. By working with BHESCo a technically feasible solution is now in sight that will benefit residents and planet alike and we look forward to continuing our collaboration to try to realise it.”
      Alistair Deighton
      Firle Estate Manager
      “We are delighted to be supporting BHESCo through the Rural Community Energy Fund. This is an exciting and innovative project that will enable the local community to decarbonise heat and increase clean energy self-sufficiency. The learning from this project will be made available to other rural communities taking action on the climate emergency.”
      Maxine Narburgh
      Regional Manager of the
      Greater South East Energy Hub

      The importance of community buy-in

      The success of the project is very much reliant on the support from local residents. BHESCo see this project as an incredibly exciting opportunity to support Firle on its journey of self-reliance by creating its own locally generated renewable energy.

      The systems will be owned by an energy services social enterprise, undertaking the maintainance and operation of the plant for the residents, eliminating the need to buy oil which is subject to unpredictable price changes due to volatile global markets.

      The community will have an opportunity to invest in the project, earn an attractive annual return and have a say in the governance of the energy services enterprise. A representative of the village will sit on the enterprise’s board.

      Key Considerations & FAQs

      The total investment for Zones B&C is approximated at £700,000 for now. This will be finalised after the tender process. BHESCo will oversee the fundraising element of the project. The sources of funding are being compiled from available sources including the Estate and
      community ownership.

      We will offer village residents an opportunity to invest in their heat networks. Our ethos is to
      democratise the ownership of energy generation assets. A share in BHESCo costs £10 and
      the minimum investment amount is £500, maximum £100,000.

      For the first phase of our Firle Village Decarbonisation Share Offer, investors can buy shares paying a target interest rate of 3% per annum.

      Owning shares in this project is not dependent on being resident in the village of Firle.

      The ownership model is being discussed with the Firle Management trustees. BHESCo’s
      preference is that the system would be collectively owned in part by residents through a
      special purpose investment vehicle, called Firle Energy Services, that would be established
      for this purpose.

      We are not sure of the impact of Covid 19 on government subsidies for decarbonisation of
      heat. The current subsidy is scheduled to end in March 2021. A new subsidy regime starts in
      April 2021. Under the present scheme, the project will qualify for the ‘Renewable Heat
      Incentive’ which is estimated to be worth £26,000 per year for Zones B & C.

      We aim to offer residents an economic benefit in addition to the environmental benefit from
      their new heat pump system. This will be calculated based on the heat use of each
      individual property according to the heat load analysis that we will undertake, including the
      energy efficiency upgrades we will install. We will meet with each resident to review their
      historic heating costs, in value and in quantity of oil, LPG or electricity (kWh). We intend to
      agree a charge with each resident to keep their home or business warm and cozy during
      the winter months as well as the continuous provision of hot water.

      A Heat Interface Unit (HIU) will be installed in each property. A meter is built into front of the
      HIU so that you can see at any time how much heat you are using in kWh (kilowatt hours).
      We are still finalising the charging mechanism. Usage will be either be charged at a price
      per kWh of heat used plus a daily standing charge of 55p to make use of the heating
      infrastructure, or we will charge a flat rate price for heating each home based on the heat
      as a service method.

      The heat loss through a modern HIU is less than 1.5%. The heat meters are on the output side
      of the system. So the efficiency is of no consequence to the consumer as the efficiency has
      no impact on their energy bills.

      The heat networks will be managed by BHESCo by entering into a service level agreement
      with the selected supplier. We will undertake a tendering process to select the best
      technology and installer with the help of renewable heat experts at RINA Consulting.

      Trenching will be completed in short lengths, about 50m at a time. It is possible that other
      utilities may wish to take advantage of this opportunity to improve their own services, such
      as upgrading the broadband. Access for emergency vehicles will not be interrupted.

      They will be disposed of in an ecologically friendly way, sold or reused if possible. Proceeds of any sale will be allocated in agreement with the boiler and tank owner.

      Yes, but your internal household systems, such as circulation pumps, will also not run, so you
      would not be able to benefit from the heat even if the heat network was continuing to run.
      This is no different from the current situation, in that if the electricity goes out, your boiler will
      stop running. We are working with the Estate management and the distribution network
      operator on a programme to address the sustainability, reliability and affordability of the
      electricity provision for the village by generating our own electricity from a large scale solar

      Having heard the concerns of the people in the village, we’ve decided not to install a
      biomass driven system for Zone A. We are conducting energy surveys of the properties to
      present a plan to improve the energy efficiency of the properties to the Estate so that we
      can design an appropriate system, based on heat pumps for properties located in Zone A.

      Because the water in the property is separate from the water in the heat network, you will
      be able to determine the temperature you require your water as now.

      To make the project economically viable we would prefer all residents to participate. This scale is needed to pass on the economies of a larger take off of heat to everyone. It will ensure that we can provide the 15% discount. The fewer who participate the less beneficial the programme is to everyone.

      Heat pumps require very little maintenance and are quite reliable. The heat pumps will be
      supported by a service level agreement, the terms of which will be included in the tender
      document that will be prepared for the suppliers to prepare their proposals. Maintenance
      of boilers will be overseen by BHESCo, so that if the heat pump breaks down, you would
      contact BHESCo who would immediately contact the maintenance contractor. BHESCo
      already has this agreement with suppliers on other projects.

      In the event that BHESCo was to enter into administration, ownership of the heat network
      and all associated contractual obligations will be passed on to another energy co-
      operative, in exactly the same way that an energy supplier will take on the customers from a
      supplier who has entered into administration. As BHESCo is registered with the FCA, in
      compliance with the Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies Act 2014, this is
      enshrined in our constitution.

      ECO grant funding is available to properties with an EPC of E or higher. Most ECO work is aimed at homes where the occupier receives some form of means tested benefit.

      More information –

      BHESCo is proposing to work with the Estate to introduce a programme to improve properties’ energy performance. It is our intention to manage heating costs over a longer term by reducing the properties’ heat demand.

      There will be no connection charges assessed by BHESCo no matter how far away your property is to the heating network or how complicated the installation to your house or business will be.

      Questions & Concerns?

      We’d love to hear what you think of our proposals and we welcome your feedback.

      You can reach BHESCo by phone or email.

      01273 284470

      * 3% is the target interest rate and is not guaranteed. Shares cannot increase in value but may decrease. Capitol is at rish and investors should not invest more than they can afford to lose.

      RCEF is a £15 million programme, delivered by Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) and jointly funded by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS). It supports rural communities in England to develop renewable energy projects which provide economic and social benefits to the community.

      For more information on RCEF, visit