David Cameron has thrown his weight behind an ambitious scheme to replace one of the most polluting power stations in the UK with a loose collective of renewable installations and energy-reduction initiatives.
The prime minister opened a 12.65kW solar PV installation on Friday [September 14] on the roof of Eynsham village hall, in his Whitney constituency, which is the first project in what local green groups creatively describe as a ‘virtual power station’ scheme.
“It makes sense as a country to be less reliant on sources of oil and other fuels from difficult and dangerous parts of the world. It makes sense to be more diversified and what could be more diversified than local sources and locally produced energy,” Mr Cameron said.
“We’ve got to stop pumping CO2 into the atmosphere if we care about climate change and solar power can help us do that.”
Coal and gas-fired Didcot A power station generates about half of Oxfordshire’s electricity needs but is due to close at the end of 2015 because it does not meet European Commission carbon emission standards.
The 2,000MW plant’s closure – which Greenpeace described as the second most polluting power station in Britain– leaves a huge gap in capacity.
A ‘virtual power station’ scheme – to be known as the People’s Power Station and set up by green group Low Carbon Hub with the support of Oxfordshire council – seeks to replace Didcot A with a two-fold strategy.
“Our vision is to mobilise everyone in Oxfordshire to ‘power down’ and reduce energy demand and ‘power up’ by increasing renewable energy generation to replace Didcot A,” explained Barbara Hammond, director, Low Carbon Hub.
In real terms this means ‘powering down’ by around 750 million kWh a year and ‘powering up’ by producing 250 million kWh of electricity from households and communities, and 500 million kWh from businesses.
“We know from the work we’ve done with Oxford University that we have enough renewable energy resource in the county to meet these requirements as long as we hit national carbon reduction targets in 2020,” Ms Hammond said.
The Eynsham village hall solar scheme – which was installed by Joju Solar – was financed by local group GreenTEA with support from Low Carbon Hub is one of the group’s first projects but is typical of its long-term strategy.
“We’re not financing all the installations but are in the process of raising the cash to provide support to a raft of community projects,” she said. “There are more than 60 community groups we can work with across the whole county.
“We’re also working with communities to get households aggregated for domestic energy retrofitting, spreading the word to businesses, and identifying community-scale renewable energy projects across Oxfordshire that we can help make happen.”
Low Carbon Hub received £128,000 from the Department of Energy and Climate Change this year and is planning a community share offering.
“What you’re doing here [in Eynsham] as a decentralised energy project is hugely important in cutting carbon, providing jobs, making us resilient and important in the long-term to have low cost energy. I’m personally very committed to this agenda,” Mr Cameron added.
“It’s great for me as prime minister to come and see this project to praise the People’s Power Station… the meetings I’ve had with local green groups gives me great inspiration about decentralised energy.”
Joju Solar technical director Dr. Chris Jardine said: “Community solar projects have proliferated in recent years but the scale that Low Carbon Hub is operating on is different. They plan to replicate this kind of project again and again across Oxfordshire until it replaces Didcot power station. This is just the beginning.”