THE ENERGY TOOLKIT

05. EXPLORE YOUR OPTIONS - AGREE OBJECTIVES & STRATEGY

Think about your options as a group. What do you want to focus on – a new renewable energy project? Energy efficiency? More than one thing? Organise yourselves to focus on your priorities.

The energy group sub-group (SOEG) started with just three members and they agreed to concentrate on two main activities: agreed to focus on the following: three core areas:

  1. Renewable energy generation and heat, funded and owned by the community

  2. Energy efficiency for all, with particular priority on fuel poor communities

  3. Educating our communities

 

How we intend to apply this:

  1. Through openness and innovation

  2. Collaborating with other communities, our neighbours and other like-minded organisations

  3. Covering the Overton area, or beyond?

  4. Not for profit, owned and governed by our members (the community)

  5. Funded by community funded schemes, grant funding, and voluntary support from the community

  6. Underpinned by sound governance and based on 5-year planning timeframes

 

From the outset, we saw the development of a community energy solution to be key to involving the community in reducing dependence on fossil fuels. These plans are focussed around helping meet Overton Parish Council’s own ambitious target of being carbon neutral by 2030. It also fitted with Hampshire County Council’s Vision for Hampshire 2050, which included local community energy projects as a key part of achieving carbon reduction targets for the county. Currently, Hampshire only produces 1.8% of its own energy (as opposed to 15% in other counties). In Bath and North East Somerset, 40% of the solar projects in the county are owned by the community. Community energy may come from a grassroots level, but it can scale up like any other organisation if it is given the time and effort. 

LEARNING POINT:

  • Recruit enough members to carry out tasks: In hindsight, we probably started with too few members. Do not underestimate how many people are interested and committed in local energy, and how many experts you will probably already have somewhere in your local area. A small core of 6-10 people can be sufficient at the start of this process, to be able to split yourselves between different activities – such as our 2 objectives above. Clearly you will need many more members as you progress to enable you to do more and rotate the responsibility. For example, Zero Chippenham has 100 members, Bradford on Avon has 600 and BWCE has about 1000. 

  • Do not try to do everything at once: Trying to do everything at once can be overwhelming, especially as most people are also working full-time, and may have young families too. It is perfectly fine to start small and be realistic as you build towards more ambitious goals. 

  • Build your knowledge sufficiently to help you focus on the achievable and avoid wrong turns. 

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ENERGY EFFICIENCY FOR RESIDENTS 

 

This was one of our two main objectives and is a key strand of community energy: stop wasting energy by installing better insulation and other energy efficiency measures and finding ways to use less energy. Older homes leak heat, so encouraging people to take steps to reduce this makes sense. Some of these measures are free or inexpensive (such as drawing curtains, or using draft excluders). Some things are much more expensive, but there are grants available to help people. 

 

The Green Homes Grant provides funding for a whole range of measures, from insulation to renewable energy heating systems. See here for more information. 

 

There is also the Energy Company Obligation Grant (ECO). See here for more information. If you are a landlord, there are also schemes to help you raise the EPC rating of your rental property.  

 

If people are on benefits or on a low income these is a lot of help for them. There is also the Warm Homes Discount, the WinterFuel Payment (automatic payment to seniors), and the Priority Services Register that those in need can be added to. There are discretionary payments available for things like broken heating or boiler upgrades.

 

The Environment Centre are local specialists in energy efficiency and sustainability working with Hampshire County Council to help residents with fuel and heating challenges, and ensuring households can access the relevant grants for their home.  They can also help with grants for broken heating and hot water systems for low-income households, through the Hitting the Cold Spots service.  They can help you navigate this complex area. See their website here, or they have a free advice line: 0800 804 8601.

 

WE HAVE DONE THE FOLLOWING:

  • Energy saving hints and tips in our newsletter, and on the website.  See here for our Feb 2021 leaflet: 

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  • Write blogs on energy saving in times of COVID (as many people are now working from home all day, and of course will use more energy, resulting in higher bills). 

  • Information about switching to a green energy supplier: this is an impactful quick win, but there are many barriers to switching: 

    • Real or perceived lack of time

    • Locked into existing contracts

    • High-cost perception (or previous experiences) that green energy is too expensive

    • I’ll do it later/I forgot/I can’t be bothered

    • A lack of understanding about what a “light green” and a “dark green” supplier is, and it’s easy to get confused by “greenwashing”. 

    • Perception that energy is boring or difficult to understand

 

It is also important to get people aware of schemes such as the Warm Homes Discount and the Energy Company Obligations (ECO). These provide direct payments and grants to low-income households. Landlords can also get help in improving energy efficiency of their houses. Getting people to move to a lower energy tariff provider is one of the easiest ways to cut fuel bills. About 25% of people are on the wrong tariff (often automatically moved onto an expensive variable tariff after their fixed term has ended). This saving can be substantial – in the hundreds of pounds for some families.

Getting people to move to a green tariff is one of the easiest ways of reducing carbon emissions from electricity use. A good hook for encouraging energy efficiency and reducing use is the opportunity to save money as this appeals to most people – and will become even more important due to COVID/economic downturn/rising energy prices. We had planned a workshop about energy efficiency for Green Week, but we had to cancel it, so we can either run this post-COVID, make a video, or run a Zoom workshop. This is an area where we need to do a lot more and we are trying to find COVID-friendly ways of doing so. Money is not the only motivator – many people do this for environmental or ethical reasons. The Energy Savings Trust provide lots of useful information in this area, you can visit their website here.

We are also doing some training via Energise Sussex Coast, who provide training for “Energy Champions”. We intend to do this in February/March 2021, so that we can run zoom workshops to help people with:

  • How to find someone the cheapest and most suitable tariff for them

  • Understanding pre-pay and credit meters

  • Understanding your bill

  • Accessing the Warm Home Discount

  • How to add people to the Priority Services Register

  • How to help people struggling to pay their bills

  • Introduction to heat loss in the home

  • Energy efficiency in the home

  • Introduction to ECO funding

  • Introduction to the Green Home Grant funding

 

There is also currently a campaign called 'Energy Super Savers' for the Big Energy Saving Network, to help people switch their energy tariff. For more information on switching tariffs, click here

LEARNING POINT:

ENERGY EFFICIENCY ENGAGEMENT

  • Focus on saving money, and making it easy. 

  • Make it easy for people to save energy or switch suppliers. 

  • There are many brilliant websites (such as this one) that already exist, where it’s easy to find clear information and watch short videos. 

  • People don’t want to click through too many links to find the information, and so you need to find an easy and attractive way to inform people and encourage them to make changes. 

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ENERGY POVERTY ISSUES

 

The definition of fuel poverty is when a household needs to spend more than 10% of its income on energy. This can be a serious problem, particularly for the elderly, those with young children, or those with health issues, as a cold or damp house can cause serious health issues. With new GDPR riles, it is hard to identify those people in Overton who may be in fuel poverty. 10% of the UK population are in fuel poverty, but we don’t know the extent of this in the Overton parish. 

 

The 4 key factors are:

  1. Low income

  2. High energy costs

  3. Poor energy efficiency in the home 

  4. Inefficient use of their energy systems

 

People in fuel poverty are likely to be: 

  • Disableds

  • Low income

  • Older people

  • Young families

  • Lone parents

  • People with health issues

 

Using data from the Index of Multiple Deprivation is a reasonably good way to identify areas that are likely to be in fuel poverty. We are currently planning to send out information highlighting what help is available in terms of grants or payments, as well as highlighting resources such as the Environment Agency in Southampton, the LEAP free energy service, or tips and videos from the Energy Savings Trust. There are also grants for those on low incomes or benefits.

  • Winter Fuel Payment: If you are born before 5th October 1954 you can receive the Winter Fuel Payment (click here). 

  • Cold Weather Payment: when the temperature drops below a certain level for a certain level of time, you may be eligible to receive a Cold Weather Payment if you receive pension credit, income support, income based jobseekers allowance, or universal credit (click here). 

  • Warm Home Discount Scheme: you could get £140 off your electricity bill this winter if you are getting the Guarantee Credit element of Pension Credit, or are on a low income. Only some electricity suppliers do this (click here). 

  • If you are in fuel debt, you may be able to get a grant from a charity (e.g., British Gas, EDF, Bulb etc. offer this). They also have a budgeting tool. 

  • Green Homes Grant: you could receive two-thirds off the cost of eligible, energy efficient improvements to your home, or up to 100% for low-income households (click here). 

  • Simple Energy Advice: a government endorsed website that provide energy advice (click here).

  • LEAP: a charity for independent advice, home visits when COVID allows, or a leaflet and a phone call at the moment (click here). 

  • Environment Centre: the Environment Centre in Southampton has a website here and a phoneline: 0800 804 8601.

 

 

We are planning to produce some leaflets and posters to use around the village in key places such as the Health Centre, Lockdown Larder/foodbanks, churches, community spaces (when these are open), as well as speaking to Village Agents and other key people in the village.

 

Speaking to other energy groups who have done similar things, the shared learning is that it is hard to engage with people, generally energy or bills are considered uninteresting or maybe stressful, and people are loathed to come forward, perhaps due to feelings of shame. This clearly needs addressing in a sensitive and positive way, highlighting that there is lots of help available.  Be very careful with any information or advice that you give – ensure that it is correct and not misleading in any way, or leads to any liability issues. We got our information checked by professionals.

 

THERMAL IMAGING CAMERA

 

We think this is a great way to make energy fun and interesting. It’s a powerful thing to see your home, and realise where there is massive heat loss. A shorter-term objective was to look at energy efficiency. Our energy efficiency drive was planned initially to be based around offering a heat loss survey of parishioners’ homes using a thermal imaging camera, borrowed from the Borough Council. We ran a training session to show people how to use the camera and explained the basics of surveying a house, and what to look for, using a PowerPoint presentation. This service was due to be launched in September 2020’s Green Week, but due to COVID it is not currently possible to visit homes to carry out the surveys. We have now purchased our own smartphone-based thermal imaging devices (approximately £220 each) which we can lend to residents who can follow our guidance on a video/information sheet to identify their own heat loss issues and take steps to remedy them.  There is a version to plug into an iPhone, and one for Android.  You just download the FLIR app, and then people can take photos or videos of their homes.  Offering your volunteers to do this is extremely time consuming as a service that your own volunteers do. However, this is extremely time-consuming (can be 1-3 hours per house), so volunteer time might be better spent on building awareness through targeting leafletting, social media and workshops or “energy surgeries”. It’s early days, but so far people seem to find this easy to do. 

 

The FLIR app allows you to take photos and videos of these heat maps - here are some examples below:

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A house with solid walls and poor loft insulation – the red areas show the heat escaping through the walls, and the roof. 

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A thermal image showing heat loss through a door. 

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A new-build house with cavity walls and good insulation. 

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This shows a poor-quality door that has a thermally backed curtain (in red/yellow), but still with some drafts coming in through the cat flap and underneath. This can be remedied partly by a simple draft excluder (or “sausage”). 

A thermal imaging camera – this is the BDBC handheld camera. 

There are also 2 short videos here, about using the BDBC camera, and the FLIR app.

LEARNING POINT:

  • Our big objective of starting a community energy project has sucked up our human resources – and COVID certainly has not helped. Tackling energy efficiency is a good place to start, and can probably help just about everybody in your community. 

  • It is challenging to try to get people to make behavioural changes – it requires easy steps, simple guidance, and assistance. 

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CARBON FOOTPRINT MEASUREMENT

 

We found this was not a straightforward exercise. Our start point was for the team to try some of the current carbon footprint tools, and then encourage our residents to do the same.

Your carbon footprint is a measure of the amount of carbon dioxide you contribute to the atmosphere through your lifestyle. There are many great tools and smartphone apps out there – for individuals, families, schools, and organisations. We did find, however, that some of those tools are quite blunt (they involve estimates), and each came out with a different total. A key benefit is that they take you through the process, and make you think about what you do to contribute to your own carbon footprint, as well as offer ideas about how to reduce it. Carbon footprint exercises can be very useful in getting people to understand what activities generate greenhouse gases. Many people are surprised at the impact diet (e.g. eating meat) has on individual carbon footprints, for example.

Energy use for electricity is also relatively small (and not that carbon intensive). The big ones are transport, heating, flying, and food consumption. The impact of consumption of capital goods (cars, washing machines, gadgets etc) cannot be underestimated. The impact of clothing is also surprising to many people. Recycling (or the lack of it) and waste are another two areas that people often overlook. Reduce, re-use and only then recycle. Some of our member do this annually and then offset the cost.

CARBON FOOTPRINT TOOLS

  • The Giki website aims to help people to live more sustainably. 

  • This website is a platform dedicated to carbon footprints. 

  • The WWF also have a carbon footprint calculator. 

  • You can find future carbon footprint scenarios at this website

  • For organisational footprints, the Carbon Trust have a detailed guide here

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We also looked at using a tool that could aggregate individual responses and build up a picture of the carbon footprint for the village. However, we found it hard to get people to complete and clearly the whole village is unlikely to take part.

We also needed carbon footprints for the local businesses. Larger businesses will have this data (e.g., Portals), but small and medium sized enterprises will need to calculate this using a business tool. Some, but incomplete, data can be obtained from Energy Performance Certificates, Display Energy Certificates, and ESOS returns. The energy “heat maps” mentioned above can also identify areas of high energy use.

 

There is currently a tool being developed by the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and Community Energy England. The Centre for Sustainable Energy is also creating a Carbon Footprint Tool which is being trialled at the moment, and we have been participating in the software trial. will be ready to trial in January 2021. 

 

GETTING ACTUAL ENERGY FIGURES

 

We attended Community Energy South’s Energy Masterclass on how to measure energy usage by postcode level – and build up an accurate picture for your parish. We now have data by postcode, for gas and electricity, for the whole parish. This data set, combined with the National Atmospheric Emissions Inventory database, provide some very good indications of energy use and the associated greenhouse gas emissions. But don’t underestimate the time it takes to do the analysis.

 

Also remember this only gives CO2 emissions from electricity and gas. It omits transport related emissions, it does not cover emissions of methane, nitrous oxides and other greenhouse gases, or non-energy related emissions (e.g., agriculture – which will be a large source in Overton). It also omits emissions from air travel, shipping, and consumption (e.g., embedded emissions from imports). Overall, this data will cover 30-50% of actual emissions only. Here’s how to find the data for your community. 

LEARNING POINT:

  • This is important to do – if you can’t measure where you are, you can’t evaluate how far you’ve come, and when you’ve achieved your objectives. 

  • Find resources within your group, or recruit from outside, to be able to use these tools to give you this information. 

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