Children at Bure Park Primary School celebrate their solar power station.

A key problem of transitioning to a low-carbon world is the lack of knowledge from society on the topic.

Low Carbon Hub has tackled this by striking at the heart of the problem, the population. The Oxford enterprise works with communities, schools and businesses to provide the finance, knowledge and technical management to scale-up renewable energy and put green power and knowledge in the hands of the people. Its projects save 600 tonnes of CO2 a year and help 1,000 people.

Community energy is very much alive and kicking in Oxfordshire, where the scale and breadth of Low Carbon Hub’s work with communities, schools and businesses and the variety of technologies installed is impressive.

Ashden judging panel

Context

A social enterprise championing community energy in Oxfordshire, Low Carbon Hub works with communities, schools and businesses to scale up renewable energy generation and put local power in the hands of local people. Projects include solar panels on schools, businesses and community buildings, a micro hydro project on the Thames, and making homes more energy efficient.

Low Carbon Hub has an extremely compelling vision for the rivers and rooftops of Oxfordshire to be the power stations of the future, delivering economic, social and environmental benefits for residents. Their surplus, in the form of community benefit funds, is ploughed back into local sustainable energy initiatives that are reducing carbon emissions in the county. Win win!

Middle Barton solar panels.

Impact

Low Carbon Hub is an experienced social enterprise, set up with the purpose of supporting and encouraging local communities to take control of their energy and scale up deployment of renewable technologies within Oxfordshire. It supports more than 20 community groups within Oxfordshire, as well as visitors from across the world, with the expertise and advice needed to deploy decentralised energy in an efficient and cost-effective way. Low Carbon Hub has seen projects go ahead that would have been abandoned without the mentoring and guidance of its seven staff. It has worked with schools, businesses, community groups and NHS trusts, and installed both solar PV and hydro projects across Oxfordshire, in addition to carrying out energy assessments and retrofitting homes with energy efficiency measures.

Since Low Carbon Hub’s inception in 2012, it has developed and supported the installation of 1.7 MWp electricity generation and has another 6.2 MWp due to be commisioned by the end of 2016. Of this 1.7 MWp is owned by Low Carbon Hub and 4.5 MWp is from the support of local groups. Having raised almost £1.7m through a community share offer in 2014 and with its second share offer of £3.5m launched in spring 2016, the scale of Low Carbon Hub’s ambition is clear and it has established itself as a highly professional pioneer in the community energy space.

Bridge of Sighs, Fieldwork Facility.

Since 2012, Low Carbon Hub has been developing impressive projects at scale, working to influence policy at the local and national level and acting as a convening hub for all those interested in community energy. Its achievements to date include:

  • 1.7 MWp renewable electricity generation capacity installed or supported
  • Installed solar PV on 10% of Oxfordshire’s schools and surveyed a further 20%
  • Raised almost £1.7 million in a community share offer
  • Installed 16 external wall insulations at no cost to the household
  • Carried out 58 free household energy assessments
  • Generating over 1.3 GWh clean electricity annually from its own projects
  • Supporting 7 full-time equivalent jobs


Low Carbon Hub is great for exposure to new kinds of projects and people. I was really impressed by LCH’s clarity of vision and ability to speak authoritatively. They don’t rule out ambitious projects and are really good at communicating their vision to others.

Luke Marion, Financial Director, Oxford Bus Company

Detail

Low Carbon Hub operates as both an IPS (Industrial and Provident Society) and a CIC (Community Interest Company). The IPS develops, installs and manages renewable energy projects after raising finance through community share offers, whilst the CIC receives the surplus income; there are 23 community group members of the CIC, who receive up to 25% of the community benefit fund. The rest of the money is used to provide services that support communities to develop their own renewable energy projects, and as seed funding for innovation projects, with a long-term goal of creating a decentralised, locally-owned energy system in Oxfordshire.

Without the flexibility to be innovative and collaborate as opportunities arise, Low Carbon Hub would be restricted in its ability to put local power into the hands of local people. The income from its renewable energy projects comes from Feed-in Tariffs and the sale of electricty to host sites, giving a 5% return to investors, an average 28% discount on electricity for host sites and the remainder funding the Low Carbon Hub CIC. Oxford City Council has provided Low Carbon Hub with a £2.3 million revolving loan fund that allowed it to install projects before the community share offer had been run, to avoid Feed-in Tariff cuts and schedule construction to fit in with host site restrictions and avoid bad weather.

Norbar installation.

Low Carbon Hub believes strongly that a reliance upon the ‘Big Six’ energy firms is neither beneficial nor sustainable for the people of Oxfordshire. By working with a huge range of partners including county, city and district councils in Oxfordshire, local schools, businesses and community groups, it is engaging the people of Oxfordshire and encouraging them to think about how clean their energy is, where it comes from and how they consume it.