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Carbon Co-op: combating the climate and cost of living crises

Case study

27th August 2022
Climate action

Discover the pioneering co-operative on a mission to save the planet and people’s purses through energy efficiency…

“Housing accounts for 18% of UK greenhouse gas emissions. That’s 65.9 million tonnes of CO2 every year,” says Alex King of Carbon Co-op – a Greater Manchester-based provider of the tools, knowledge and services people need to reduce their energy use.

“We focus on people’s homes, not just because of the climate but also because of affordability. Experts now predict that the average household is going to be paying £4,266 per year on energy bills.”

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That’s why what we do is important. We want to alleviate the cost of living for people and help the planet. It’s a dual, interlinking set of priorities for us.
– Alex King, Carbon Co-op

Alex said: "One of the few meaningful contributions individuals can make to combat the climate crisis is to have their home insulated, if they can afford it. And Carbon Co-op’s sister co-op, People Powered Retrofit (PPR), was set up to help households do this.”

A PPR client has their home assessed by the team, who advise on the best measures for making it more energy efficient. The co-op designs the most appropriate retrofitting and connects people with the best builders to use.

“Often retrofitting work is ‘top-down,’ with the builders and experts in charge," Alex added. "We do things differently and put the client at the heart of every project, allowing them to lead. We also liaise with local builders and quality assure their work."

Carbon Co-op at work retrofitting
Carbon Co-op connects people with the best builders to use for retrofitting their homes.

This is just one of Carbon Co-op’s many planet saving activities. To help more vulnerable people, the team has produced a Retrofit for All Toolkit. This is a guide for organisations designing energy efficiency schemes for residents experiencing energy vulnerability.

This work complements Oldham Energy Futures – a project the co-op is leading on with communities in the town. Alex said: “We’re working with local people to explore how transforming power can benefit them, as well as being green.

“The aim is to reduce the carbon footprint, transition to low carbon and create several community energy projects. We’ve produced the toolkit as a guide to support communities, local authorities and housing associations that would like to lead similar projects.”

Alex and his colleagues were also commissioned by the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) to set up a ‘Citizens’ Jury.’ They put together a group of 12 people from all walks of life to deliberate on local energy markets. The result was a set of recommendations for the GMCA overwhelmingly in favour of public ownership of energy suppliers. 

The Citizens' Jury deliberating
The Greater Manchester Local Energy Market Citizens' Jury saw 12 people from all walks of life come together to deliberate on local energy markets.

The team is also pioneering an innovative energy efficiency scheme entitled PowerShaper Flex. Alex said: “With the energy system, we have massive spikes in demand, and those spikes will only get bigger as we move to electric transport and heating. Before, we could simply fire up fossil fuelled power stations to meet that demand. But we can’t do that with renewables.

“For the grid to be able to decarbonise further, it will need to be able to handle increases in demand by means other than increasing the energy supply. We’ll need to manage demand. PowerShaper Flex is a project to help the green grid handle those increases in demand.”

For this scheme, selected households will connect smart devices and electric vehicle chargers to Carbon Co-op’s home energy management systems, which will turn the charge to those appliances on and off at specific times, notifying participants in advance. Participants can opt out of switch-off events whenever they like.

“This community-minded co-ordination will enable the network to manage local capacity. It could also potentially save people on energy bills, if they can charge at more advantageous times, as well as helping the grid transition to net zero.”

Carbon Co-op has 450 regional and national householder members (growing at a rate of one third per year) who pay an annual subscription of £35. Those members are part of a thriving community who collaborate and support each other, sharing their experiences and opening their homes at green home events. 

“Our members can also borrow equipment from us, free of charge. They benefit from services, offers, training and energy efficiency materials, as well as access to expert retrofit networks,” added Alex.

“They are making a difference and are proof that we all can, in a number of ways: by becoming a member of our co-op, insulating your home and more widely exploring what you can do as a community. We would welcome people to enquire how to take that forward if they are interested. Contact us at [email protected].”

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