Innovative Low Carbon Heating
For Firle Village

Project Background

Brighton and Hove Energy Services Co-operative (BHESCo) will be continuing work with Firle Estate to create an affordable, low-carbon heat network for this village outside of Lewes in East Sussex, thanks to a recent Rural Community Energy Fund (RCEF) grant administered by the Greater South East Energy Hub.

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 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.

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 the possibilities for powering 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:

  • Provide secure, reliable and affordable heat,
  • Improve air quality and reduce carbon emissions,
  • Remove dependency on fossil fuels for the energy supply.

    Proposed Heat Network Map

    Progressing with Phase II of the project

    Following a successful application for funding from the Rural Community Energy Fund (RCEF) we will be moving on to Phase II of the project which includes in the installation of heat pumps in Zones B & C (see map).

    First, to comply with upcoming regulatory requirements, in partnership with RetrofitWorks, the energy efficiency of each home will be improved, ideally to an EPC of C.

    BHESCo will then be moving ahead to raise the funding required to develop the next phase of the programme, which involves installing four micro heat-networks to be shared by 22 properties in the village.

    A sealed pipe network, called a ‘shared ground loop’ will be dug to transport heat from the ground in a liquid (a mixture of water and glycol often referred to as brine) from boreholes dug to around 120m deep.

    The brine flows in a cycle around the shared network to each property where heat is extracted by a heat pump to provide hot water and space heating.

    Following funding approval to complete these riskier development-stage tasks, which include quantifying the total project costs, BHESCo will be able to finalise its economic offer to residents for the clean heat to be generated by this innovative delivery system.

    rural heat network susex kent - brighton hove energy services 2020
    “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 a ground source heat network 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 £250, maximum £100,000. For the Firle project, we are
    envisioning a bond offer bearing an interest rate of 3-4% per annum, not-compounded. If a
    resident leaves the village, they can keep their bonds and carry on earning interest on their
    investment, or sell back their shares to BHESCo.

    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.

    Next steps

    As we collect information about heat loads of each property, BHESCo will be working with RINA Consulting to finalise the heat load calculations for the system. BHESCo is also working
    to finalise the terms of the project with the Firle Management Trustees.

    Once we have a clear idea the heat price for residents, the ownership of the system and a plan for the upgrade of properties in Zones B & C, we will be in contact to speak review the offer for each resident.

    In the meantime, we will be consulting residents on how they use their oil heating to understand their requirements for the heat pump. This will be important in describing how the heat pumps and controllers work to all residents.

    The installation and management of the system will go out to tender to local suppliers in order to select the highest quality, most qualified supplier and equipment available so that we can be sure that the system design will be the right one for the village.

    After we complete the plan for energy efficiency upgrades in Zones B & C, we will start
    surveying the properties in Zone A to prepare our retrofit plan for the Estate.

    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

    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