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Ashden Award Winners: building self-sufficient communities across the UK

Ecologist

13th July, 2010

The Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust is the 2010 UK Gold Winner of the Ashden Award for Sustainable Energy. Watch and read about how they and five other finalists have made significant cuts to energy use on a community level...

UK Gold Award winner

The Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust, Scotland

This is an island community that has embraced self sufficiency and a radical green lifestyle by carefully managing its energy use, actively encouraging energy-saving in everyone's daily life and generating 90 per cent of its electricity through renewable energy. Using hydro, wind and solar energy, the island's system is unique, as is their electricity capping scheme that ensures households and businesses keep a constant watch on energy consumption.

This remote Scottish Island community is leading the way for streets, neighbourhoods and villages to manage their finite energy resources better. To protect its beautiful environment while enjoying the benefits of modern life, local residents have embraced a lifestyle that is less reliant on fossil fuel and more self sufficient. They have come up with novel ways of limiting energy demand through a cap of 5 kWh a day for households, and 10 kWh for businesses by using energy monitors to warn when they near the limit.

With this approach and a host of energy saving activities, local homes have cut their carbon by nearly 50 per cent. In comparison to the average UK household, their CO2 emissions are about 20 per cent lower, and their electricity use is nearly half. The community even manages its own electricity grid, harnessing 90 per cent of its energy from hydro, solar and wind. To avoid drawing on the back-up generator, residents are alerted to how much energy is available through a green and red light system.

'In a community-led scheme like ours, people have more responsibility to save energy, but if it's led by the Government, people just leave it to the authorities,' says Lucy Conway, Chair of Isle of Eigg's Green Team.

Plumbers' invention makes solar water heating more attractive

Willis Renewable Energy Systems, Belfast

The Solasyphon is a plumbing innovation that speeds up and simplifies the retro-fitting of solar water heating in existing homes, saving the cost of buying a new water tank.

The Willis family business in Belfast prides itself with 120 years of plumbing innovation, the latest a simple invention that could help popularise solar water heating. The Solasyphon is a heat exchanger that is easy to install and reduces the cost of installing solar water heating by up to 28 per cent. It means home owners can now retrofit solar water heating using their existing hot water cylinder, thereby saving the cost and embodied energy of a new one. So far 2,500 Solasyphons have been sold and there is strong interest from companies as far afield as the US, New Zealand and South Korea.

College sets off on ambitious carbon-cutting drive

Okehampton College, Devon

Students, staff and governors of this dynamic secondary school in Devon are heading towards carbon neutrality with an exciting array of activities both inside and outside the college gates, while supporting their feeder primary schools to follow suit.

This secondary school on Dartmoor National Park is on an ambitious journey to carbon neutrality that could put them top of the class for sustainability. By encouraging energy-saving behaviour, replacing lights and using solar energy, the College has cut electricity bills by 50 per cent, saving the school £20,000 a year. Students, staff and governors are also working towards harnessing wind, hydro and biomass.

As a specialist technology centre, the College has fully exploited opportunities for linking learning and practice that other colleges could emulate. But not content with their own achievements, the College has engaged 11 feeder primary schools in energy projects and the carbon cutting message reaches the wider community through environmental quizzes, films and discussions. According to a Sixth Form student, 'I've nagged my parents so much about leaving things on standby that now they're actually turning them off!'

Pupils teach the world how to build a better future

St Columb Minor School, Cornwall

The Eco Team and staff at this primary school are taking a practical but fun-packed approach to driving energy use down by making eco pledges in class and at home, generating energy with wind and solar, and giving their building a green overhaul with £120,000-worth of funding.

Pupils are already becoming passionate advocates for their planet, helping turn their school into a low carbon exemplar. The Eco Team is good at making energy efficiency fun; pupils make pledges to shrink their carbon footprint, they badger their families to switch off appliances, and constantly patrol corridors for left-on lights and computers.

The school has raised nearly £120,000 to give its building a green makeover with energy efficiency, a wind turbine, solar PV and solar thermal. The teachers get children engaged in energy issues at a global level too by following the International Primary Curriculum.

As part of a ‘One World Week' pupils made working models of solar cookers used in Peru and shared sustainability ideas with schools in India. 'If we didn't have all this renewable energy we wouldn't be learning about carbon footprints, and it's also reducing our school's energy use,' says a Year 6 pupil.

Life gets cosy in Manchester's draughty homes

Northwards Housing, Manchester

A scheme that has given 70 per cent of North Manchester's social housing a top-to-toe energy efficiency retrofit, bringing tenants real comfort and lower fuel bills, and resulting in serious carbon reductions.

Northwards Housing is giving residents of North Manchester's draughty council homes what they've longed for - warmth and cheaper fuel bills. Going far beyond government standards, they are converting their housing stock - including hard-to-treat properties - into energy-efficient homes, with no charge to tenants.

Already over 70 per cent of their 12,500 houses have been overhauled with external wall insulation, double-glazed windows, new doors and even an A-rated boiler. Carbon emissions have dropped by at least 17,500 tonnes a year, and for the first time tenants can enjoy real home comforts. CO2 emissions in hard-to-treat houses have fallen by up to 60 per cent.

As Charlotte Grant, Chair of local tenants association says, 'We used to have a storage heater and the flats were freezing and draughty. Now that the draughts are sealed and we've got gas central heating, our bills have dropped by £80 a quarter.'

Suffolk moves closer to sustainability

Suffolk County Council, UK

This forward-looking Council is making giant strides towards sustainability by helping local schools switch their oil-fired boilers to greener wood-fired boilers and boosting Suffolk's supply chain for biomass fuel through sustainable forestry.

This County Council in the East of England is putting clean energy and forest protection at the heart of its plans for the region. The environment team is taking care to protect the rich woodland resources on its doorstep while supplying wood-fuel to local schools, where it provides a sustainable source of heat in new, efficient wood-fired boilers.

The initiative saves the schools energy, reducing CO2 emissions by 1,200 tonnes a year, and has cut their fuel bills by up to 25 percent. To ensure the scheme's success, the Council is developing the local supply chain by managing its own woodlands carefully and supporting a local cooperative producing wood-fuel.

The future looks bright for biomass; there is enough sustainable wood fuel supply in the county to supply over 35 MW of boilers. 'Wood fuel isn't going to run out like oil and gas are, so we're investing now to save in the future, both in cost and carbon emission,' says Jane Storey, Deputy Leader of Suffolk County Council.

To watch short videos of the other winners click here.

For more about the Ashden Awards click here.

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