BEC in the Community

Brighton Energy Co-op’s Community Fund

BEC’s Community Fund ensures local school children are engaged in renewables technology and carbon reduction. Since 2020, we’ve worked with national charity Energy Sparks to deliver key stage curriculum materials to the kids. We’ve also offered a grant to each of our 13 Solar Schools, to help onboard teachers and school business managers to the platform. Energy Sparks is a free online, school specific energy analysis tool and energy education programme supported by the UK Government.

BEC forged a new relationship between Brighton & Hove City Council’s Energy Team and Energy Sparks, so all Brighton & Hove schools could participate, whether they have a BEC solar system or not. We held a skills-share meeting with fellow community energy group, BHESCo, to ensure their solar schools could get on board at the start.

– 20 local schools are not enrolled with Energy Sparks

– Our school outreach work includes attending events for Head Teachers, Business Managers and pupils

– BEC allocates 2% of our total revenue to our Community Fund

We also visit our Solar Schools – see the latest  school event here and school visit here.  You can enroll your school to Energy Sparks here.

Below is a history of our Community Fund which also supports other local community energy and energy efficiency organisations with grants. 

Community Fund 2018 - 2020: Renewable Energy Education for Schools

In 2018 BEC’s Community Fund switched its focus to Renewable Energy Education.  We teamed up with OVESCO a community interest company which has been operating since 2007 in Sussex.  They also create community owned renewable energy projects so their local community can become zero carbon.  We commissioned them to carry out a series of renewable energy educational assemblies and workshops in our BEC Solar Schools.

This continued through 2019 and in February & March 2020 BEC commissioned OVESCO to give Key Stage 1 & 2 assemblies and workshops at the following BEC Solar Schools; Coldean (381 pupils) , Woodingdean (395), Rudyard Kipling (405) and Carden (360) Primary Schools.  BEC was in the middle of arranging the same for Desmond Anderson, Lindfield Primary, Hove Park, Balfour, Hertford and PACA Schools when the UK announced its first COVID-19 Lockdown.

BEC’s Community Fund had paid for these interactive assemblies and workshops to ensure that our Solar Schools were kept up to date on renewable energy technology and connected to the free solar PV systems we had placed on their roofs – but everything had changed.

OVESCO were no longer allowed into schools and our education programme ground to an abrupt halt.

Winner 2017

In 2017 BEC members decided that our community fund would go to Energise Sussex Coast, a community group in Hastings that, in collaboration with the BEC project development team, intends to launch its own community share offer. The funds were used to pay for ESC’s promotional materials and share offer document.

With BEC’s support the project intends to:

  • 1) Link community investors with some of the poorest parts of Hastings.
  • 2) Pioneer a community energy project in Hastings that’s one of the sunniest places in the UK.
  • 3) Build capacity for larger projects in Hastings.
  • 4) Reduce energy costs for community buildings in Ore.
  • 5) Generate excitement and a community fund to develop further projects.

Winner 2016: BHESCo's 'Warmth for Wellbeing' - energy efficiency grant

In 2016 our members chose a very different beneficiary: Brighton and Hove Energy Services Coop (BHESCO). One of BHESCo’s activities is the ‘Warmth For Wellbeing’ programme, making homes warmer and more comfortable while also reducing monthly energy bills for those who may struggle to keep up.

BHESCo have completed over 200 free energy surveys around Brighton; BEC members voted to provide funds to carry out more free home energy surveys and implement measures for some of the city’s most vulnerable residents.

Using the BEC Community Fund, BHESCO energy assessors visited 15 people in their homes to assess what could be done, without altering the structure of the property, to make it warmer and more energy efficient.  They then sourced the measures and went back a second time to install them.

In total BHESCO installed:

  • 15 Geo energy monitors
  • 60 LED lights
  • Draught-proofing to 8 windows and doors
  • 12 radiator reflector panels
  • 1 chimney balloon
  • and switched 5 people to a better energy tariff
energy efficiency grants

“I visited a single man in an old, inefficient building. He struggled to afford heating and rarely turned on his central heating. He was also in debt with his energy supplier and paying almost double the amount for his energy. This caused him a lot of stress as he was always concerned about keeping up payments.

We switched him to a cheaper energy tariff, (saving him £170 per year), installed LED lightbulbs, radiator reflector panels a draught-excluder and an energy monitor. His energy bills have halved, and he uses less electricity, giving him the confidence to be able to turn up the heating during the winter.”

(BHESCo Energy Assessor)

Winner 2015: Brighton Earthship - renewable energy grant

Installation of 4kWp of solar panels to increase renewable energy generating capacity.
The Earthship Brighton is an off grid community and education centre in Preston Park in Brighton. It gets around 3,000 visitors a year: 1,600 local school children, 250 participants on Green Building Courses (including ‘Introduction to Photovoltaics’) and over 1000 visitors on tours. After running the centre for 10 years, The LCT needed to increase the renewable electricity generating capacity. After successfully qualifying for a BEC renewable energy grant, LCT increased the existing 1 kWp of solar panels to 4 kWp, allowing the earthship to run purely on solar electricity.

Electricity is stored in batteries with a backup generator running on plant oil or bio-diesel to top up the batteries if required. This makes the Earthship Brighton the only zero carbon off grid building that that people can visit in Sussex.

Project cost:
£3,150. BEC funds covered 79% of project costs, for capital equipment: 12 x 250 W mono -crystalline PV modules + fixing.

Measurable saving: 4000 kWh / year electricity, provided by off-grid solar generation at EarthShip

Educative output:
Offgrid renewable energy showcase; Ongoing environmental education program: Tours; Eco-days, Green Building Courses, including ‘Introduction to Photovoltaics’( ~250 pp/year).

Social benefit to community:
Educational venue

The Applicant:
The Low Carbon Trust (LCT) is a not-for-profit organisation that was formed in 2001 to set up, manage and promote environmental projects (including the Brighton Earthship). Its main objective is tackling climate change through highlighting the connection between buildings, energy use and carbon emissions.

renewable energy grants

“Now that the Earthship Brighton runs on renewable electricity again our visitors are inspired by a fully functioning earthship powered by the sun!”

Misha Hewitt, Chairman of the Low Carbon Trust

As well as building lots of new solar in our area, we also get involved in plenty of activities within our community. To date we’ve:

  • spoken at numerous events and conferences locally on the opportunity for reducing carbon emissions and improving fuel poverty and have appeared in local media, TV & radio on the same subject.
  • provided case studies for wider education on renewable energy to organisations such as the National Energy Foundation.
  • A PHD researcher from Sussex University shadowed us for one year. Her work is widely read by start-up community organisations.
  • We’ve provided consultancy to Brighton & Hove City Council on their renewable energy and energy efficiency strategy, as well as sitting on the City Sustainability Partnership.
  • We were awarded DECC Local Energy Efficiency Fund grants to help make 40 householders’ homes more energy efficient and comfortable.
  • We helped found local community energy organisation Community Energy South.
  • We’ve hosted international delegations from Chile and Japan, and been ambassadors for Brighton through funded visits to Utrecht and Eastern Germany.
  • We’ve inputted into a number of masters and undergraduate projects and provided volunteering and employment opportunities.
  • We also provide ad hoc advice to numerous householders and businesses on renewable energy or energy efficiency solutions.
  • BEC helped set up a Sustainable Energy Working Group to assist the development of joint projects across the city and encourage further education on sustainable solutions – e.g. some of these were being joint bid partners and finalists in a National Lottery ‘Communities Living Sustainably’ bid.
  • We were an advisor to the Eco Technology Show which ran for 4 years in Brighton with around 2500 visitors per year benefitting from 60 free seminars on sustainability issues.
  • BEC helped develop a business plan and helped gain funding for an Environmental Industries umbrella organisation.
  • We were also an advisor to the Local Enterprise Partnership on environmental projects.
  • In 2015 we were awarded a DECC Urban Community Energy Fund grant to develop further renewable energy projects in line with our Objectives.
  • BEC contributed to the Community Energy Coalition.
  • We were awarded a £5K Innovation Voucher to develop the business plan for a community owned Anaerobic Digester.
  • We helped broker potential partnerships or funding bids in Brighton & Hove with B&Q, Siemens, AEA-Ricardo & Cisco.
  • BEC provided a ‘platform’ which has allowed social cohesion around sustainable energy and fuel poverty issues.
  • We have also been recognised for our efforts with a PEA and Community Energy England award.