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Barcombe in East Sussex aims to be the UK’s latest zero carbon village

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Barcombe in East Sussex is aiming to become the UK’s latest zero carbon village, with residents in the area teaming up with UK Power Networks to make it happen. 

Over 600 households have signed up to take part in the ‘CommuniHeat’ project, which is being run by UK Power Networks. The scheme aims to best understand how Barcombe and similar communities could switch to low-carbon heating using electricity. 

Engineers from UK Power Networks will work with local community group Ovesco to host digital community events and engagement to understand residents’ needs and opinions. The project will also install energy meters in the village and consultancy Buro Happold will create new computer models to forecast the impacts of electrifying heat. In doing so, the project partners hope to create a sustainable, replicable model for Barcombe that could be applied in other parts of the country.

Data from the newly-installed meters will offer new insights into how residents currently use their energy. With this new information, UK Power Networks can run advanced simulations for different approaches to installing low carbon electrical heating. The simulations will investigate the costs, efficiency, and electricity network impact of multiple different approaches, including shared district heating, medium-sized heat pumps serving a few properties, or personal electrical heat pumps installed at each property.

The project will then look at potential community finance models for making the switch and analyse how other smart technology like electric vehicles and solar power could play a role. With a clear plan in place, residents will understand what a zero carbon future could look like.

Maria Caulfield MP for the Lewes constituency commented, “Decarbonising heating systems is crucial to tackling the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions and I’m delighted that Barcombe is leading the way to demonstrate how to make the decarbonisation of heat a reality. It is fantastic to see UK Power Networks passionately collaborating with a range of stakeholders, to ensure they support rural constituents like mine to decarbonise as quickly and efficiently as possible.”

Why did UK Power Networks choose Barcombe? 

Barcombe is an excellent choice for UK Power Networks’ CommuniHeat project as it’s an off-gas grid village. That means residents aren’t hooked up to the gas grid and thus have to burn other fossil fuels in order to cook or heat their homes.

UK Power Networks can easily offer an alternative option to residents of Balcombe, which would not only save them money, but also help lower their carbon footprint. Unfortunately, the company isn’t guaranteeing that the village will use 100% renewable power in the transition to electrical heating and cooking, meaning it may not achieve the net zero carbon village title even when ditching fossil fuels. 

Ian Cameron, head of customer services and innovation at UK Power Networks, said, “This project is all about facilitating the reduction of carbon emissions through collaboration. We know where emissions come from, and we know the end goal. We’re delighted to be working with this forward-thinking community to actively make net zero heating a reality for all.”

Ollie Pendered, local resident and Chief Executive of Community Energy South, added, “We are incredibly proud to be working with experts from UK Power Networks, Buro Happold and local pioneering Community Energy Group Ovesco to make a low carbon future a reality for rural villages. CommuniHeat has the potential to take rural communities to net zero fast, create a new market for local installers, create future jobs while benefiting residents. Coupled with the impact of Covid-19 and the need to tackle climate change, this project has a real chance of making a positive impact.”

The UK’s zero carbon villages

While Barcombe hopes to provide a model for other rural villages wishing to emit zero carbon, it’s not the first village to attain the title. Hackbridge in South West London was the first in the UK to coin the term, thanks to the BedZED eco village. This development of 100 homes promised not just carbon-reducing technologies installed within the village, but to also build responsibly using local materials wherever they could. 

In addition to the BedZED eco village, a community in Peterborough built by Morris Homes also holds claim to being the UK’s ‘largest zero carbon village’. Vista, in the Southbank area of the city, is a development of 295 zero-carbon homes designed to reduce energy emissions by 100% compared to an equivalent-sized standard housing development. It utilised combination boilers, solar power and rainwater harvesting. 

Despite all these zero carbon villages making lofty claims, they still have an environmental impact. Take the Vista development in Peterborough, the use of a combi boiler, while more energy efficient than traditional heating systems, is still woefully more impactful on the environment than heat pumps or solar heating technologies that are available today. It’s likely that we’ll see more villages shooting for the zero carbon crown in the coming years, especially as the UK Government promises a green revolution to meet its target of net zero by 2050. The upcoming ban on gas boilers will go some way towards achieving that goal.

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