Harbury e-Wheels is a volunteer-run transport scheme based in the village of Harbury, Warwickshire, that uses two electric cars to support those in our local communities who, for medical or financial reasons, have few or no transport options.
The programme works with local agencies such as children’s centres, surgeries, mental health organisations, Citizen’s Advice, food banks and other community services on a referral basis only.
Harbury e-Wheels provides this low carbon clean transport at absolutely no cost to the user or agency. We are only able to do this through the generosity of private donors and grants from various sources.
In 2018 it became clear to a group of the trustees of the charity that government targets to phase out internal combustion engines by 2030 would never be achieved in rural areas without investment in infrastructure. The historic inequity in investment between urban and rural areas would be a factor in dissuading residents in villages and rural towns to consider the transition to non-polluting EVs. Why switch to an electric car if you have no off-road parking and if there are no convenient charge points? Our project was born.
The award of two successive Rural Community Energy Fund (RCEF) grants has allowed us to develop this increasingly ambitious project, called Harbury Future Energy, which involves installing a new technology vertical axis wind turbine, solar panels, battery storage and public charge points to deliver energy to electric cars for the benefit of all residents and visitors to the village and for the cars of Harbury e-Wheels.
The project aims first of all to capture and store the energy in wind and sun to mitigate the effects of climate change in our community as well as providing the possibility of charging a car locally. An innovative vertical axis wind turbine, delivering 7kWp, and a 12kWp solar array will be installed with an energy storage battery to contribute to the energy needed to power charge points for the two electric cars of Harbury e-Wheels and for public use in the village. The facility will also connect to the national grid to draw additional energy on a green tariff and may sell surplus energy back to the national grid. There will be four 22kW and one 50kW chargers.
In the longer term, income generated by the project will fund Harbury e-Wheels, a registered charitable company that arose from a village low carbon group, Harbury Energy Initiative (HEI). The project, therefore, will provide charitable, community and environmental benefits.
Our Stage 1 Rural Community Energy Fund (RCEF) funded feasibility study has been quite widely circulated and is freely available to anyone who wishes to see it. This included considerable research, upon which we have built in Stage 2.
The project would not have been possible without the RCEF funding to engage experienced and high quality consultants. These were our primary, essential resources.
Creating a project team of people, from within the charity and outside it, from the relevant expertise available in our village has been vital. We could find no project with similar ambitions in an English village location. For potential charge point use we had to go to a Scottish example.
Surveys are an important element in assessing potential demand and need. It takes persistence to get a significant response. We used social media, the parish magazine, word of mouth and personal networks to engage people. Engaging the local community requires the use of dedicated space on the Internet, social media and public manned displays. Any questions can become FAQs. We also made sure that our MP, County, District and, most importantly, Parish Councils approved of our plans.
There are always unexpected challenges. The critical one for us is the discovery that the Parish Council land on which our project will take place is covered by a Fields in Trust covenant, requiring an extra level of permission. Gaining consent and completing legal requirements takes time and can be frustrating.
Our biggest challenge may yet be finding the capital funding, assuming we gain all the necessary consents. Staying alert to potential sources of funds is an important part of looking ahead.