community renewable energy
If the Government is keen on reducing the carbon emissions from the domestic sector, it should ideally target efforts at the community level rather than individual households, according to a study of British Gas' Green Streets programme by the IPPR.

Not only are there efficiencies in scale at this level, there is also the knock-on benefit of households working together and inspiring each other, spreading the word to encourage their neighbours to participate, in a way that wouldn't happen otherwise.

British Gas has been running the Green Streets project for two years. It has involved 14 communities receiving grants and expertise to install micro-generation and energy efficiency measures in households and community buildings.

A competition to receive a further £100,000 to spend on additional greening measures has also been won by Llangattock, a village in the Brecon Beacons.

Based on robust meter readings and accurate modelling, the IPPR estimates that the communities involved will benefit from impressive ongoing annual savings:

  • Total annual savings in energy: 726,450 kWh

  • Total annual energy generated: 104,804 kWh

  • Total annual CO2e emissions saved: 215,461 kgCO2e.


Many will also receive additional revenue from feed-in tariff payments for renewable energy installations - a total of £22,792 a year - as well as saving around £30,000 per year on their energy bills.

The report says, "The community groups were integral to the success of the technology installations, having engaged large numbers of people in their local area to take part in their projects."

IPPR Researcher Reg Platt told Energy and Environmental Management magazine that British Gas benefits from the £2 million investment that they made in the project - which is additional to their Carbon Emissions Reduction Target commitment - by "developing their knowledge of working with communities, internal capacity building in energy efficiency and micro-gen installations, and increasing their brand value."

As the Green Deal and the Renewable Heat Incentive kick in they will be better placed to take advantage of the market opportunities.

Platt added that every building was given an energy audit, with assessors regularly revisiting to check the results.

"The audits recommended measures according to the proper hierarchy - quick wins and efficiency first, then micro-generation - but in some cases communities wanted micro-generation like solar panels as a visible way of spreading awareness to involve more people in the community in their projects," he said.

IPPR surveyed approximately 1,300 people in households within 1.25 kilometres of community buildings that participated in the projects. 41% of those surveyed were aware of the Green Streets project in their neighbourhood, providing a strong testament to the outreach work by many of the groups.

Of those who were aware of Green Streets, 30% said they had changed their attitudes towards energy efficiency and renewable energy as a result and 46% had been inspired to take action on energy efficiency and renewable energy. 61% said they would be more likely to take action in the future.

The researchers were hugely surprised and encouraged by these findings.

The research has thrown up many challenges facing communities wanting to take these measures and come up with a series of recommendations.

Community groups without doubt need not only finance to get projects off the ground and buy technology and energy efficiency measures, but also the availability of expertise.

And they are not the only ones. Planners and local councillors also often suffer from a lack of knowledge and incorrect perceptions that can affect planning decisions and make it difficult to get micro-gen installed, IPPR researchers found.

The biggest challenge facing the campaign to make the nation's buildings energy efficient is the number of old, solid walled properties. There are 26.6 million homes in Great Britain, of which 18.7 million have cavity walls and 7.9 million solid walls. Only 104,000 of the latter have solid wall insulation.

The latest figures from the Department for Energy and Climate Change on energy efficiency measures show that in the last quarter, 128,000 cavity walls were insulated but only 7,000 solid walls.

This is because it is far easier to do the former, and the latter has, on average, a 30 year return on investment period.

Only one of the groups participating in the Green Streets project – terraced streets in the Meadows in Nottingham – opted to spend a proportion of their share of the British Gas capital on solid wall insulation. The IPPR report says that participants "were strongly averse" to this measure for "a range of non-financial barriers, including hassle and aesthetic considerations".

This is bad news, for it means that any group attempting to persuade households to take the measure in the future will have a seriously uphill battle.

In addition, because heat pumps are unsuitable for properties that do not have a relatively high level of thermal efficiency, it will be pointless to install them in these homes. The IPPR report therefore concludes that "the UK’s potential for domestic heat pumps is significantly compromised by the number of solid walled properties."

They therefore recommend that the Government should launch a solid wall insulation competition to challenge academic and private sector innovators to come up with 'break through' technological solutions, and fund an educational outreach programme on renewables for planning officers and local councillors.