“Cities making the difference—Giant batteries and power for the people after Oxford wins £81m in green funding

Author: Tom Hayes, Cabinet Member for Safer and Greener Environment, Oxford City Council

 

We have 11 years to limit climate change catastrophe. Urgent and unprecedented changes are needed to dent the mood of complacency that still stalks the corridors of national governments. Climate change may be a global challenge, but here in Oxford we have never left it to governments to fix and today my council can share news about £81 million of funding to accelerate our journey to a Zero Carbon Oxford and make our Zero Emission Zone a practical reality.

A £41 million project—which will include giant batteries with a total capacity of 50MW to balance more intermitted renewable energy on the grid—is a game changer for the city and a win-win for everyone. Whether you cycle, walk, drive, hop on the bus, or ride in taxis, everyone living, visiting, and working in Oxford will benefit from cleaner air and a faster journey to Zero Carbon.

A new Energy SuperHub consisting of the world’s largest commercial hybrid energy storage facility, electric vehicle (EV) charging points and ground source heat pumps is set to be built in Oxford, making it a model for cities around the world to cut carbon and improve air quality. My city council will invest some of the £41 million secured on new electric bin collection trucks, sweepers, tippers and vans. We are taking a hand-on-heart approach to how we deliver public services and electrifying more of our fleet is key.

The funding will support the Council to offer a ‘Try before you Buy’ scheme for the city’s Black Cab drivers. Our Black Cab drivers are a credit to the city, moving people around safely and working closely with the Council to make the Zero Emission Zone a success. Together we want to create a green and clean Black Cab fleet with the iconic London look, but drivers are eager for support to clean our air and earn a living. When taxi drivers aren’t on the road, they aren’t earning, so the City Council has begun servicing electric taxis to ensure drivers need not take long trips away from Oxford to get their cars repaired. By giving this practical ‘Try before you buy’ support, we can speed up our Black Cab fleet’s journey from 0% zero-emission capable to 100% by 2025, as provided for by our Zero Emission Zone.

Money-saving ground source heat pumps will subsequently be installed in around 300 buildings and homes to halve their carbon footprint from heating and reduce operating costs by 25% with innovative heat pumps that can be controlled via smart phones. Approximately 100 ultra-rapid and fast chargers will be installed initially at a public charging station on the A34 and at the council’s main vehicle depots. The network will also run past the city’s two main bus depots, providing the opportunity for their fleets to go electric.

This £41m once-in-a-generation downpayment on Oxford moves the Council closer to achieving this vision. Leading businesses are investing in Oxford because they recognise that we’re trialling new technologies exactly like Energy Superhub Oxford. Today’s announcement allows us as a city to embrace our technological future by working with partners in a consortium led by Pivot Power which consists of Habitat Energy, Kensa, redT Energy and the University of Oxford.

In other good news shared today, Oxfordshire will receive £40 million of funding to take back control of energy. Project LEO will return power to the people, so that we can generate clean energy for our own neighbourhoods. By creating opportunities for communities to trade the energy they generate, use, and store at a local level, Project LEO will empower people, companies, and local areas to build an energy system that works for people and planet.

The project will trial a smart local energy system – or ‘smart grid’ – which explores how the growth in local renewables, electric vehicles, battery storage, and demand side response can be supported and help in reducing charges to consumers. The system will balance local demand with local supply help test markets, assess the benefits of flexibility to the energy system, and, crucially, show the potential for people and communities to become active energy citizens in the future.

Critically, Project LEO will enable Oxfordshire based social enterprise, the Low Carbon Hub (which my council belongs to), to grow its existing portfolio of 40+ energy projects bringing another £16 million of community energy projects to the County.

Oxford City Council has been awarded £1.6m for its role in the project from the Government’s innovation agency, Innovate UK, as part of the successful £10.26m bid for the Oxford element of the overall £41m project. On top of this funding, Project LEO has been awarded £13.8m from the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), and will be supported by £26m of private funding from the project partners. Carefully targeted government money can make a real difference to local clean energy projects. Our hope is that other councils will seek to follow Oxford’s example and learn from our projects. We all need to have smart clean energy as soon as possible.

By building partnerships to achieve more together than we can alone, my council is innovating to tackle our climate and public health crises. Two of the most radical steps that a council can take are embracing new technologies and welcoming them into our communities, and also driving wider debate about our energy future by testing new models that empower citizens. Our councils are not prepared to kick the can down a shortening road—every year that substantial action on air pollution and carbon neutrality is delayed is another year when hundreds of people will die preventable deaths and our planet suffers. That’s why these investments announced today aren’t just a game-changer—they’re also a life- and planet-saver.

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