2014-05-01 11.08.48 View across site - BillHere are two examples of how local initiatives in Britain have already helped provide energy and end a dependence on fossil fuels.

Both were brought about because ordinary people, worried about the energy crisis and global warming, chose to act.

One is in Oxford, the other near Oldham.


Source: Financial Times

Oxford hydro project shines light on electric future

When parts of Oxford were struck by severe flooding in July 2007, Saskya Huggins and a group of fellow residents decided to make their own contribution to limiting climate change.

“We feared that kind of extreme weather event was going to be far more frequent,” said Ms Huggins.

The group formed a community organisation and raised money through government funding schemes and share offers to build low carbon energy projects in the area. Among them was Osney Lock Hydro, which since 2015 has been generating an average of 188 megawatt hours a year of electricity on a stretch of the river Thames — enough to power around 60 homes.

Osney Lock Hydro is an example of how Britain’s electricity system has become far more diverse with the rapid growth of renewable energy projects, ranging from solar panels on the roofs of homes and businesses to vast wind farms off Britain’s coast.

The change is challenging energy companies to rethink the design of Britain’s electricity networks, through which power has traditionally been exported from large, centralised power stations to the main transmission network and then distributed to homes and businesses by local network companies. Smaller, renewable schemes instead export power to local grids, forcing local networks to accommodate two-way flows.

National Grid, which is in charge of balancing the system, said 29 per cent of Britain’s generation capacity is now connected to local grids rather than the main transmission network. It has forecast that the proportion of this so-called “decentralised” energy could rise to as much as 58 per cent by 2050 as the UK strives to meet its 2050 net zero emissions target.

Local electricity networks will be at the forefront of many other changes as key sectors of the economy decarbonise, including meeting demand for electric vehicle chargers. Capital Economics, the London-based consultancy, has estimated that the cost of upgrading electricity infrastructure to support the installation of electric vehicle chargers and heat pumps to replace polluting gas boilers could total as much as £48.5bn by 2050.

Osney Lock Hydro is one of up to 90 local energy schemes that are participating in a £40m study in Oxfordshire called Project Leo, looking at how new grid models that could play a role in balancing the electricity system.

Backers of the research, which is being led by SSE, believe that managing how local energy projects trade their excess electricity to the grid or use and store power, can help to avoid large spikes in demand and avoid costly network reinforcements.

“The more electricity you can balance locally, the less you need to reinforce the network,” said Ms Huggins, who has become social impact director of the Low Carbon Hub, a social enterprise that develops community-owned renewable energy schemes in Oxfordshire and is involved in Project Leo.

“We’re looking to sort out how we’re actually going to bring decarbonisation into people’s lives and into businesses much more locally,” said Alistair Phillips-Davies, chief executive of SSE.

The way that companies invest in the power network is also coming under scrutiny as the country’s regulator, Ofgem, prepares for the next regulatory period, which begins in April 2021 and 2023 for local network companies.

Ofgem determines the returns companies are allowed to give their investors and must balance the need for investment with complaints that electricity networks have been making “unjustified” profits at the expense of consumers, who pay for grid costs via their energy bills.

Energy networks warn too harsh a crackdown on returns could thwart the investment needed to reach net zero. “There is a risk that proposals for the next price control period could have damaging impacts on the energy networks’ ability to deliver the government’s plans for clean growth and the wider economy,” said a spokesman for the Energy Networks Association, the trade body.

Keith Anderson, chief executive of ScottishPower, said companies, regulators and policymakers need to start “mapping out milestones” of how the UK is going to achieve the 2050 target and where investment would be best directed. Otherwise, demand for electric vehicle chargers, for example, could swiftly outpace networks’ ability to cope, he said.

“When that demand starts to come through, you can’t slow it down,” said Mr Anderson.

Ofgem says the decarbonisation agenda is front of mind as it considers the level of returns that electricity network companies will be allowed to make from 2023. “Our next round of price controls will build on this to ensure the energy networks continue to attract the investment required to maintain high service standards and support the pathways to net zero, while lowering returns and saving consumers money,” said a spokesperson.

Back in Oxford, backers of Project Leo hope local communities will start taking a greater interest in when and how they use power, and how their decisions could help the UK meet its climate change ambitions.

As she looks out over Osney Lock Hydro, Barbara Hammond, chief executive of the Low Carbon Hub, said: “The more we can get this [electricity] used by households in the area, the more they will switch their use to when power is available.”

Source: Saddleworth Community Hydro

Saddleworth Community Hydro

Saddleworth Community Hydro Ltd generates enough sustainable electricity  to power about 75  homes via the national grid, with an annual saving of 170 tonnes of  CO2 .
We are situated at Dove Stone Reservoir, Greenfield, Oldham OL3 7NE
The dam height of 35m allows the use of a cross flow turbine driven by the continuous supply of compensation water flowing from the reservoir into Chew Brook to generate up to 51 kW for the next forty years or so.
This is the first high head system in England to use an existing dam.

The hydro turbine is owned and run by
Saddleworth Community Hydro Limited,
a registered society under the Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies Act 2014, which is made up from local and national members with a passion for the environment.
We expect to provide upwards of £6k annually for education and local environmentally friendly projects as well as providing a modest return to shareholders .
 However, it has several other valuable outcomes:
  • It demonstrates that a group of local people can actually do something to slow down climate change! We are NOT powerless or helpless!
  • We now know how to set up such a project and are happy to share what we have learned and so enable others to replicate our success.
  • We will be generating reliable zero carbon electricity in a quiet, non-intrusive way for many years.

Saddleworth Community Hydro 2 cropped

Development and Construction


2008 – Greenfield & Grasscroft  Residents Association started to think about generating renewable energy in Saddleworth harnessing water power.

  •  Showing of  the film ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ in Delph. Discussion after the film sparked wider interest.
  • A series of meetings of local enthusiasts,  later called the steering group, explored options of an Archimedean screw on the river Tame.
  • This proved unlikely to be viable as there is no weir of sufficient height.

2010 –

  • The option of a turbine on the compensation flow from Dove Stone reservoir was researched. This is an existing legal requirement that United Utilities ensures that a constant flow of water is released into the river to supply industry downstream.

Compensation water

  • United Utilities agreed to a community turbine on the reservoir outflow.
  • A £243,000 EU grant under the Rural Carbon Challenge fund was offered; subject to raising further funding ourselves.


2011 – The grant was reviewed under government austerity measures.


Summer 2011- The grant was reoffered reduced by only 8%


December 2011 –Share offer Launch


April 2012 – Share offer closed having raised almost £150,000.


June 2012 –

  • H2ope left the project. This was because they felt they lacked sufficient expertise in high head turbines required at Dove Stone.

Summer 2012 –

  • We urgently needed to find a new contract partner. This proved to be a lengthy process as we had to get tenders from several potential partners within EU contract law.


October 2012 –

  • In October we selected Renewables First as our new partners.
  • We made preliminary enquires with the Environment Agency about an abstraction licence.
  • A new feasibility report produced by Renewables First showed us a better way to intercept the compensation flow giving us access to the full pressure of the reservoir water. This would almost double the power output with a similar rise in our potential revenue generation.


November 2012-

  • We had our first formal meeting with United Utilities to discuss the siting of the turbine. Renewables First’s initial proposal was to house the turbine in a structure over the existing reservoir. United Utilities and the directors rejected this solution because of turbulence in the basin at time of severe overflow. United Utilities suggested we investigate a possible site inside the reservoir pump house.


December  2012 –

  • An investigation of the pump house was started.


February 2013 –

  • The pump house was finally rejected because of limited space and restricted access arrangements.
  • A new site was found for the turbine in a small building in front and to the right of the pump house.


March 2013 –

  • Technical agreement was obtained with United Utilities for this new site.


April 2013 –

  • A ‘heads of agreement’ with United Utilities was put in hand. A legal agreement is needed before ordering a turbine, which is a major capital spend.
  • Local Authority planning approval sought.
  • An abstraction licence will probably not have been required from the Environment Agency, but we expected them to rule on whether any provision for protection of fish is required.


May 2013 –

  • A meeting was held with United Utilities on 3 May to sign off of the technical design and  ‘heads of agreement’ prior to ordering the turbine. The turbine was ordered. Ecowave, a British supplier was used.

June 2013 –

  • United Utilities specified we must appoint a panel engineer to confirm safety of our plans before final approval could be given.


July 2013 –


August 2013

  •  Heads of agreement with UU  agreed. This covers the need for a decommissioning bond. Drafting of full lease put into train. Bridging finances put in hand with Key Fund.

December 2013

    • Construction started with excavation of the turbine chamber and of the sump, for water to run into

after passing through the turbine.

The chamber for the turbine is below ground level and also the water table, so the building is lined with a waterproof membrane.

February 2014

  •  The output connection was made to the stilling pool and thus to the river .

March 2014

  • The pipework connections were engineered to divert the existing outflow of water through the turbine house.
  •  The turbine was installed.
  • Costs had escalated, so a second share offer was made raising a further £80,000.  This resulted in the capital invested by shareholders matching the grant from DEFRA.

April 2014

  •  The cross piece was put in place. Fortunately there had been quite a lot of rain so that the overflow from the reservoir more than made up for the loss of compensation water during the connection process.

May 2014

The transformer was installed for the connection to the National Grid.

All external work was completed and commissioning started.

June -August 2014

  • A phone line was installed and a broadband connection was made to facilitate remote control and monitoring + email reception of warnings of problems.
  • Team of volunteers trained to deal with the everyday running.
  • Commissioning and testing of the system to ensure no loss of compensation water to United Utilities.
  • United Utilities want the flow of compensation water to be above the legal minimum so output is 43KW: 10% more than originally expected.
  • Turbine started up for normal production.

September 2014

  • Official public switch-on by Adrian Ramsay, Chief Executive of The Centre for Alternative Technology, Machynlleth.

Adrian Ramsay, the Mayor of Oldham, Cllr Fida Hussain, the Mayoress,

Bill Edwards SCh chairman, and pupils from Friezland School