Renewable Energy Information
on Markets, Policy, Investment, and Future Pathways
by Eric Martinot

Solar City Case Study: Oxford, UK

The Oxford Solar Initiative began in 2002 as a partnership between the city, Oxford Brooks University, and the local community. Officially launched in July 2003, it has three main goals: (1) to add a sustainable energy element to urban planning strategies; (2) to set targets, conduct baseline studies, and develop long-term scenarios; and (3) to develop sustainable urban energy technologies. The primary target of the initiative is for 10% of all homes in the city to have solar energy by 2010. There are also short-term (two-year) targets for installation of specific numbers of energy efficiency measures, solar hot water systems, and solar electric systems. The short-term targets are visible to the public, lending a community participation element to achieving the targets. The initiative also includes CO2 reduction targets and capacity building for the local government.

An extensive array of subsidies and incentives are available to homeowners for improving the energy efficiency of their homes and installing solar hot water and solar electricity. For energy efficiency improvements, the grants cover typically 60-100% of the full cost of wall and loft insulation, hot water tank insulation, condensing boilers, heating controls, and efficient light bulbs (which are provided free of charge). For renewable energy, the grants cover up to 50% of the full cost of solar electric systems and up to 500 for solar hot water systems. The Oxford Solar Initiative web site explains the basics of energy efficiency, solar hot water, and solar electric technologies, and explains the various subsidies and incentives available to homeowners and how to apply for them.

As part of the initiative, Oxford has been conducting analyses of the CO2 emissions of its built environment using a geographic information systems (GIS) to predict baseline energy use for each house. The analyses employs 95 parameters for each dwelling. Some parameters were obtained from the GIS, while others were obtained from a physical walk-through of the city, in which building characteristics were recorded for each home (dwelling type, building fabric, ventillation, heating system, etc.). The walk-through took an average of 30 seconds per home, with data entered on a hand-held PDA.

Previously, Oxford pioneered a "solar street" in which all the homes on one street have solar hot water and power, and are connected to the electric grid via a "power gate" that allows the community to obtain Renewables Obligation Certificates (ROC) from the utility for the power generated. The extra income generated by the ROCs offsets some of the added costs of the solar sytems.

Page updated December 10, 2004
Photo credits C. Babcock, W. Gretz and DOE/NREL Photo Information Exchange