HECC provides visitors with a mix of healthy environmentally friendly activities, including conservation projects which are underpinned with “hands-on” learning workshops around traditional and cutting-edge renewable energy technologies which the site will use and showcase. The project launched its first phase in September 2021 and has already become the focus of a regional study by Community Energy England on behalf of Northern PowerGrid (NPG). HECC has the long-term ambition to become 100% “off-grid”, and a net exporter of energy to the grid for social purposes.
The project has been supported by Midlands Energy Hub via RCEF to engage with energy consultants to examine the feasibility of developing facilities on the site to demonstrate a circular economy through the development of the region's first community-managed “waste to energy to sustainable food initiative”, using a small scale H2AD Anaerobic Digestion process (a Lindhurst Engineering donation) to create energy from waste destined for landfill.
The H2AD containerised unit – one of only three in the world – will begin trials in early 2022, subject to securing planning permissions. In partnership with leading universities, HECC will be the first in the world to trial waste PET plastic as a feedstock in the unit. Not surprisingly, the project has attracted attention regionally, nationally, and internationally.
Furthermore, by securing additional RCEF funding, HECC and its technical partners have completed the manufacture, fabrication, and food processing trials of the region's first containerised micro-scale, aquaponic training unit (AquaTrainer) fish waste to sustainable food educational project. The unit will feature at COP26 in the African Pavilion.
Recent financial contributions have enabled the project to purchase STEM learning equipment and resources to deliver renewable energy workshops on-site and develop outreach programmes for local schools. The project also hopes to formally secure and announce a further significant financial investment which will enable the purchase of new wind turbines, PV solar and battery technologies to provide 100% sustainable power to the first phase of the site.
Our ambitious long-term vision is to design and build a £1 million “off-grid” visitor centre and knowledge transfer centre where local people can meet and learn about renewable energy technologies and take part in local and regional conservation programmes.
Useful Learnings from HECC
We believe that our community-led model is able to work well with local authorities and land owners and they are now beginning to see that a community led approach to managing the environment and countryside could succeed through community ownership and empowerment.
The model we champion is not driven by the commercial need to make profit, so it is our belief that small, micro scale energy, growing sustainable food and environment projects driven by community members and ownership is the future and is the key to their buy-in, and to the long term sustainability and viability of the project.
For instance, energy projects which are now not favoured by incentives from the government can become favoured by community ownership and management as they have a vested interest in the environment and may not be entirely focussed on profitability so they may wish to invest both their time and money into something they know is the right thing to do for future generations.
This principle applies particularly to our projects in anaerobic digestion, a tried and tested process for thousands of farmers that is considered to be an efficient and effective way of disposing of waste (particularly due to the over production of crops and combined with European incentives and policies designed for farmers to over produce which are now at an end due to Brexit).
This process may not be their chosen route in the future, however our project will demonstrate and showcase a small-scale affordable micro unit that could work in every community in Britain and which could also be implemented on a large scale, such as in hospitals to manage waste and reduce costs of transport – all of which will have a positive impact on carbon emissions.
Through Rural Community Energy Fund (RCEF) funding and expert advice from their officers, the network of specialist energy connections and other recipients of RCEF recipients who have been invaluable, we have been able to draw the above conclusions as well as to examine some of these and other areas through specialists who have completed feasibility studies.
- SMART energy monitoring technologies,
- Agrisound to capture insect data,
- Waste and energy outputs,
- A beekeepers hub,
- Number of people and schools engaged with per year,
- Waste quantities to energy, food yields, growing efficiencies and reductions in carbon emissions,
- Remote monitoring technologies in food growing projects.