People standing outside the local shop

Going neutral

The village tackling carbon emissions

A decade ago a small village cut itself off from the rest of the UK with a target of dramatically reducing its carbon emissions.

Four years into the experiment at Ashton Hayes in Cheshire, simple steps like fitting double-glazing, cavity-wall and loft insulation or energy-saving lighting together with lifestyle changes, had reduced the village’s carbon footprint by 23 per cent. This year marks the 10th anniversary of the project, which has seen carbon emissions cut by an impressive 40%.

National Grid has launched its own internal carbon budgets to cut emissions by 45 per cent by 2020 and is investing around £3 billion a year in its electricity and gas networks while developing new technologies, such as smart meters.

WATCH: The 10-year anniversary video explaining how everyone in the village pulled together to make it happen.

Professor of Environmental Sustainability Roy Alexander is trying to encourage people to take more responsibility for their own energy

Villagers Garry Charnock and Roy Alexander have been the brains behind the project.

Technical journalist Garry told the summer 2006 edition of Gridline: “Carbon reduction is taking action to reduce your carbon footprint – the amount of carbon dioxide that you produce through the energy you use. Carbon neutrality takes that one step further by reducing and then offsetting emissions to zero.”

Annual carbon footprint surveys are carried out in the village by second-year students at the University of Chester, where Roy is a Professor of Environmental Sustainability.

Calculations are based on energy use in the home, travel and transport, and each household is then given a customised set of suggested actions on how to make further reductions in carbon emissions.

“Simple steps such as fitting double glazing, cavity-wall and loft insulation or energy-saving lighting, together with lifestyle changes, such as cutting the number of flights and car journeys, have reduced the village’s carbon footprint by 23 per cent,” said Garry.

The village has now been awarded up to £500,000 from the Department of Energy and Climate Change via its Low Carbon Community Challenge scheme to take the next step.

“The funding is enabling us to pioneer the first community-owned microgrid in England, where the electricity generated can be used by the village directly, rather than sold to a licensed supplier,” said Garry.

The project has focused on the school, church and a number of residential homes fed by a common low voltage ‘feeder’.

Woman gardening in Ashton Hayes
Each household is given a customised action plan on how to make further carbon emissions reductions


Garry Charnock

Garry Charnock has helped pioneer the project to enable the village to cut its carbon emissions by 40% in 10 years

“An essential first step was to measure existing energy expenditure patterns using special meters installed in the buildings,” said Roy. “Weather stations were then utilised to determine the wind and solar power that would be needed to match the load.”

Work starts in July on the installation of a biodiesel-fuelled Combined Heat and Power system at the school, with solar panels on the roof, a wind turbine and a means of storing heat in summer.

With the support of the distribution network operator Scottish Power, the intention is to use the feeder to distribute the renewable energy within the microgrid, as well as to potentially sell it back to an electricity supplier.

“An added aim is to encourage people to take more responsibility for their own energy use through demand-side management,” said Roy. “To give a simple example, if the wind was blowing strongly in the middle of the night, smart meters would be able to turn your dishwasher on.”

Some of the team are now looking at how green energy could power village-owned electric cars, while another sub group is looking at how revenues from selling electricity to the grid could help to subsidise other projects such as the community-owned shop.

“As a village, we’ve seen how energy efficiency can deliver approximately 25 per cent reduction in carbon footprint, but the renewable energy microgrid could enable us to double that,” said Garry.


Photography by Roy Kilcullen