The Low Carbon Hub is a social enterprise that develops investment-ready renewable energy businesses in the Oxfordshire area, for and with local communities. 3Keel worked with Oxfordshire’s Low Carbon Hub to carry out a feasibility study for the development of a woodheat-based energy services company that ‘twins’ wood-fired heat installations with local, productively managed woods. 3Keel’s role was in concept development, technical investigation, consultation with stakeholders, and write-up and communication of the business concept (see attachment at the bottom of the page).
The Low Carbon Hub is proposing to create an enterprise which installs and operates district heat scale woodfuel boilers in Oxfordshire and links or ‘twins’ these installations with nearby woods that can produce a supply of feedstock that is equivalent to the boilers’ demands. This will be a social enterprise, and its working title is ‘OxWoodShare’.
The installations side is the practical and financial focus of the enterprise. At the moment it is focusing on retrofits for schools, care homes, and small clusters of existing dwellings in places that are off the gas grid. The social purpose here relates to providing communities access to affordable sources of renewable energy.
The enterprise would install, own and operate the boilers – supplying heat to its hosts/customers. This is a model that the Hub know works commercially already, with the support through the Renewable Heat Incentive. Twinning the boilers with local woods serves three main purposes:
It helps build a culture of connection and understanding between communities and woods. It also captures people’s imagination – people like the idea of having a link to a wood;
It helps the Hub to build capacity in local woodfuel supply chains, and;
It helps the Hub to secure the fuel supply to our boilers, and ensures it is sustainably produced.
In practical terms the forestry and woodfuel side of the operation may start as a light touch. The Hub wants to secure medium to long term ‘options’ on timber crops so that it can channel through local woodchip merchants. The Hub doesn’t plan to harvest, process, or deliver woodchip directly, because it thinks this can be done in partnership with existing local businesses. But in the long term the Hub might look to manage, lease, or even buy woods. The more tenure it has, the more it can involve communities in their woodland ‘footprint’.
OxWoodShare will be centred around a Community-owned Energy Services Company (CESCO).The CESCO will have three roles:
Securing forestry resources through purchase of woodlands, long leases, purchase agreements;
Raising funding to deploy biomass heat infrastructure (boilers, district heat networks);
Selling heat to the end user
For more details of the initiative, see the attached business concept.
Working with 3Keel on this project has been great fun, and very productive. They combined commitment and creativity with the ability to communicate with, and get buy-in from, a wide range of partners.