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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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 – https://www.simpleenergyadvice.org.uk/pages/energy-company-obligation
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.
We’d love to hear what you think of our proposals and we welcome your feedback.
You can reach BHESCo by phone or email.
* 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 www.wrap.org.uk/renewables