Midway through the summer of 2007, Oxfordshire saw the destructive power of nature when the county suffered the worst floods in more than a generation.
But amid the devastation, a small group of volunteers decided to set about harnessing that power for good, forming a community group to promote renewable energy.
Six years later, almost to the day, group founder Dr Barbara Hammond was celebrating after securing the first deal with a local business that would not only generate clean, green electricity but also put money back into the community.
From Devastation to Delivery
It had been a long journey. After the floods of 2007, Barbara Hammond had joined forces with a small band of like-minded people to create community group, Low Carbon West Oxford, which in time grew into West Oxford Community Renewables.
With Barbara’s previous experience in government, where she led the UK’s renewable energy programme and contributed to the 2003 Energy White Paper, the group secured support from Oxford City Council and Oxfordshire County Council and, with that backing, Low Carbon Hub was launched in December 2011.
Within 18 months, Low Carbon Hub had secured a deal to lease roof space from Oxford Bus Company, itself an environmental pioneer, for a scheme that drew praise from then-Prime Minister, David Cameron.
Installing 540 solar panels on the roof of Oxford Bus Company’s city centre headquarters cost around £150,000, which Low Carbon Hub funded by selling community shares so like-minded individuals both locally and across the country could contribute to – and benefit from – the scheme.
Giving Back to Communities
Once installed and connected the following year, the panels generated electricity that Low Carbon Hub could sell to Oxford Bus Company at a discount, with any surplus being sold to the grid.
In just its first year, the revenue generated by the deal enabled Low Carbon Hub to contribute £12,000 to a scheme to insulate houses in nearby Barton, officially one of the most deprived neighbourhoods in the UK.
More importantly, it created a blueprint for subsequent Low Carbon Hub schemes – including four more private businesses, nearly 30 schools and a string of other community-inspired schemes such as Sandford Hydro.
A Turning Point
The deal with Oxford Bus Company was a turning point, explains Low Carbon Hub’s Beth McAllister.
Working with Oxford Bus Company provided Low Carbon Hub with a template for working with schools to install solar on their roofs, and to working with other businesses like Norbar and Prodrive.
It has now delivered almost 40 renewable energy and innovation projects while Barbara has since been made an MBE for services to the development of community energy. Luke Marion, who was Oxford Bus Company’s finance director at the time, has even become the social enterprise’s treasurer.
The Co-operative Difference
Like more than 75 similar renewable schemes across the UK, the surplus electricity generated by Oxford Bus Company is now bought by Co-op Energy, which was established in 2010 with an aim to support the development of community energy.
From 2019, new and existing Co-op Energy customers can even choose to buy all the electricity they use exclusively from community energy projects like Oxford Bus Company.
“Oxford Bus Company was our first installation in 2013. What was really important to us both was that the revenues went back into the community, but it’s what else it has led to since that has been so powerful.” Beth McAllister, Low Carbon Hub