Proponents of Cumbria’s proposed coal mine often point to its potential to create 500 new roles. But the county could create thousands of jobs and attract billions of pounds of investment if it opts, instead, to expand low-carbon sectors. That is according to a new report from local organisation Cumbria Action for Sustainability. The report outlines how 9,000 jobs could be created across the county in low-carbon sectors including renewable electricity generation and distribution; renewable heat; retrofitting buildings and sustainable waste management by 2035. Around half of these roles, the report stipulates, would be based in West Cumbria, where the UK’s first deep coal mine in more than three decades has been proposed. Of the 9,000 roles, renewable energy generation and infrastructure account for the biggest proportion – more than two-thirds. The report states that Cumbria could rapidly expand its onshore and offshore wind sectors, as well as solar, tidal and hydro, with the right support from government and the private sector.
Nottingham City Council has been named the overall winner in the Guardian’s Public Service Awards. He Council announced in January that it intended to become the UK’s first carbon-neutral city by 2028. It has already met its 2020 target to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 26% four years early; more than 40% of all journeys in Nottingham are made on public transport and solar panels have been installed on more than 4,000 council houses. Energy consumption of council buildings has been cut by 39% and it is on track to generate 20% of its energy from low-carbon sources by next year. And last year the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs concluded that the city’s air pollution had fallen so much that a Clean Air Zone was not needed.
Making the carbon neutral commitment was only possible, says Sally Longford, the Labour council’s deputy leader and portfolio holder for energy and environment, because of the work that had gone before. “We got a lot of stick over the years. People thought we were anti-car, because we introduced various schemes to try and reduce car usage and congestion.” But it has paid off. “When I was talking to the officers about how far we could push this they were confident we could go further than other councils because of all the work we’d already done.”
One policy in particular, its workplace parking levy (WPL), was a “gamechanger” according to Longford. Introduced in 2012, the WPL is aimed at employers providing 11 or more commuter parking spaces, with an annual rate of £415 per space. It is still the only such scheme in the UK and has not only tackled congestion and pollution but netted the council £61m for improving and “greening” public transport. That money has helped with the redevelopment of Nottingham station, an expansion of the tram network that runs on green electricity from the council’s own energy company, and the council’s fleet of 58 electric buses that has reduced carbon emissions by more than 1,050 tonnes. “We have a positive attitude to these things because they pay for themselves,” says Longford. “We’re putting solar panels on anything that doesn’t move, really, because it saves us money in the long run and helps support other work we’re doing.”
The energy and transport teams have won funding from central government, Europe and other sources, and the savings the energy team generates means it actually makes a profit for the council that can be used to cross-subsidise crucial departments such as children’s services.
Bristol City Council – controlled by Labour – was the first council in the country to declare a climate emergency in November 2018. That motion was unanimously passed and now acts as the foundations for the City’s transformative commitment to become carbon-neutral by 2030.
In 2015, Bristol became the UK’s first European Green Capital. And, having already recorded a 71% reduction in carbon emissions from its direct activities against a 2005 baseline – surpassing a target to reduce emissions by 65% by 2020 – it now has the lowest carbon footprint of any UK city.
The City’s Energy, Transport and Green New Deal Lead Kye Dudd stresses the importance of the unitary authority continuing to lead the climate movement in a way that he hopes will create something of a domino effect of climate action among businesses, citizens and policymakers alike. “We need to extend our influence into the business sphere and to bring other people with us.”
The Council recently partnered with Manchester-based blockchain technology company EnergiMine to reward council employees who partake in sustainable actions by using the EnergiToken (ETK) platform. ETK uses blockchain to incentivise actions that promote energy reduction, clean transport use and social cause initiatives. Employees can now earn tokens to spend on rewards – or donate the equivalent value to a registered charity – by acting in an environmentally sustainable way.
Great progress has also been made outside of the Council’s own operations – particularly in the area of renewable energy. More than £50m has been invested in low-carbon and renewable energy projects in the region since 2012, and to great effect: Bristol sourced 21GWh of energy generation from solar, wind and biomass in 2018 – enough to power 24,000 homes for a month.
Through the Council’s City Leap Strategy it hopes to attract a further £1bn of global investment in the city. Local partners already supporting the project include the University of Bristol, University of the West of England, Western Power Distribution, Bristol is Open, Invest Bristol and Bath, Bristol Green Capital Partnership and Bristol Energy. The signs are already looking positive: since its launch last year, the City Leap initiative has already garnered interested from almost 200 local organisations, international firms, investors and energy and infrastructure businesses.
Dudd notes that district heat networks and community renewable energy projects are two areas where smaller local businesses can get involved. A 5MW community-owned solar project, has installed roof-mounted solar panels on public buildings. And a new network of underground pipes that will deliver affordable, low-carbon heat and energy across the city – is already benefitting more than 1,000 social housing properties and is continuing to expand.
The Council voted in October to make Bristol the first UK city to ban public use of diesel cars from its streets to combat air pollution. While still requiring government approval, that scheme is set to start from 2021. Bristol’s Eastville Park is the first of four planned charging hub for the region, each hosting four to eight rapid-charge connections that can charge an EV up to 80% from 30 minutes’ charging. In total, four local authorities will install 120 new or replacement charge point connections across over the next year. The majority of the charge points will be supplied with 100% renewable energy provided by Bristol Energy.
Cheshire West & Chester Council has announced plans to install solar panels with battery storage technology across two large estates. It has appointed Aberla Renewables, part of the Aberla Group, for the installations which include heating solutions that cover 180 council-owned homes. The team has started surveying properties and the project, which consists of solar panels with a total capacity of 250kW, is expected to be completed next year. The £500,000 project is part of the Low Carbon Housing Support Programme and has been jointly funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).
Hundreds of homes and businesses in Cornwall have started selling electricity to their local energy network and the national energy system in a pioneering move. The trial is the first time that traditional energy users – such as homes, hotels and businesses – have acted as suppliers in a microcosm of a full energy system. The trial harnessed together 100 Cornish homes, fitted with batteries and solar panels, to act as a mini virtual power plant for the local energy network, Western Power Distribution, and the UK’s energy system operator, National Grid. During sunny spells when homes generate more than enough electricity from solar panels they can store the power to use later, or supply the energy system with clean extra power. The homes took part in the trial alongside 150 local businesses, which were prepared to adjust how much energy they used depending on the balance of energy supply and demand on the grid. If wind and solar power output dropped the companies could choose to use less electricity in exchange for a payment from National Grid, or if the local grid had more electricity than it needed the companies could ramp up their energy demand. National Grid already offers to pay firms that own utility-scale batteries to provide a similar service, but the trial is the first time that companies can take part in the same “local energy market” as the network operator. The market was designed by energy giant Centrica and modelled on the same system used to balance energy markets across Europe. The energy companies believe the trial could help create a nationwide chain of flexible smart grids built around clean energy.
Swindon produces enough electricity to power 97 per cent of the borough’s houses from renewable sources. The council’s target is to generate 200 megawatts of electricity form renewable sources, such as solar power because that is the amount needed to power every home in the town. It currently produces 195 mega watts. It hopes to have the capacity for the full 200 MW installed by next year. There are 43 solar farms operating in Swindon at the moment.
Aberdeenshire Council is planning to install solar PV and battery storage for 500 local authority homes. The properties in Inverurie and MacDuff will receive solar and storage systems with the intention of alleviating grid constraints in the area. Around 3.25kW of solar will be paired with a 5.5kWh battery in each property, and the systems will be used to provide grid services to the local network. The pilot scheme has been launched after the council attempted to roll-out energy efficient schemes on existing properties, including solar PV, but was hamstrung by local grid constraints which prevented connecting systems to the grid.
Stirling Council has installed over 37,000 solar panels on more than 3,900 council housing properties, generating an estimated 9,700,000kWh of free renewable electricity every year. The council’s energy efficiency programme also means that in 49% of the council housing stock already meets the new challenging minimum energy efficiency standards for social landlords in Scotland 13 years ahead of schedule. And more than 330 battery storage systems are set to be installed in council houses by March 2020. No wonder the Council won the Best Residential Solar and Storage Project award at the annual UK Solar and Storage Awards 2019 in Birmingham.
A 10-tonne ‘Archimedes screw’ has been hoisted into place for a new hydro-electric scheme at Saughton Park which will make the park fully eco-powered. Ground source heating is already being used in the park’s buildings and glasshouse and the hydro-power generated by the Archimedes screw, using water directly from the Water of Leith, will provide electricity across the park. The micro-hydro scheme project was partially financed thanks to £482,107 from the SP Energy Networks Green Economy Fund.
A council-owned solar farm has smashed generation targets in its third year of operation, taking its overall income to £4 million. The 12.4MW solar farm at Toggam Farm in Lakenheath generated 12,631MWh of electricity in the past year, surpassing its target of 11,591MWh. This saw West Suffolk Council receive an income of £1.5 million from the farm, £100,000 more than expected. The income – its highest from the farm – came from a combination of selling electricity to the grid and income from Renewable Obligation Certificates.