Osney Lock Hydro was set up by a group of local residents to enable the development of a community-owned hydro scheme in the heart of Oxford. It is the first community hydro scheme on the Thames.
We wanted to harness the power of the river to generate green energy and reduce our community’s carbon emissions. The hydro also creates a sustainable income stream to fund environmental projects well into the next half of the century.
Set on the banks of the river Thames at Osney Lock, opposite the site of Oxford’s first electrical power station, is one of only three sites suitable for hydro generation in the city. Building work started in the summer of 2013, with the first electricity generated in May 2015.
The idea for the project was first raised in 2002, and after several years of community consultation and pre-development planning, was brought to investment readiness.
The idea for the project was first raised in 2001 after a neighbourhood meeting was called at the pub. A community survey of Osney Island residents in 2002 showed that most people understood the threat of climate change, and wanted to develop renewable energy on the island, in particular a hydro project at Osney Weir.
Extensive technical and architectural studies were done over the next few years by local experts and resulted in the Environment Agency provisionally agreeing to lease the land and buy the energy.
Four incredibly hard years’ work between 2011 and 2015 finally saw Osney Lock Hydro generate its first renewable energy in May 2015. The project is now owned and managed by community-energy organisation West Oxford Community Renewables.
It now produces on average twice the amount of power generated by the old coal powered Osney Power Station in its first year of operation in 1892. In the end, it took 15 years of expertise, ingenuity and effort to make the journey from the first idea to the first power generated.
Plan around the resources you have available to you in your community. In West Oxford we have a river suitable for hydro, and people with the skills, energy and enthusiasm to develop and deliver the scheme. We needed both to be successful in creating a successful community energy project.
Setting up the project is just the start. As well as needing to plan for ongoing maintenance and running of the project, the value from a project can be far more than the green energy it generates. Our hydro is much more than a green power station. It's an educational resource, a community green space and a participant in energy system innovation trials.
At the core of our model is a 'double carbon cut'. Surplus funds raised from the sale of the green electricity we generate is used to fund a second round of carbon cuts. This enables us to have a far larger environmental impact than the carbon savings from the green energy generation alone.
Partnership working is key - you don't need to deliver everything yourself. We work closely with local charity Low Carbon West Oxford to achieve our double carbon cut. They are a community-led initiative which aims to combat climate change by encouraging residents to live more sustainably. By supporting each other, together, we are helping to create a more cohesive and resilient community in West Oxford.
Partnership with Environment Agency was also important. During construction, we agreed a ground-breaking collaborative partnership that saw the community build the housing for a new weir gate alongside the structure for the hydro. We now work very closely with our wonderful lock-leepers to make sure we can produce as much power as possible while keeping the river operating at its required level.
Being able to share our story has been a huge benefit we hadn’t fully anticipated. With local residents, schools, students and other community groups joining us for tours. Osney Lock Hydro sits right next to a popular section of the Thames Path in the middle of Oxford. It is very visible to the many people who pass by every day and a popular venue for the annual Oxford Open Doors events which sees 200 people flock to the site during a single afternoon to find out more about the scheme.
The learning from the Osney Local Hydro project - the first community owned hydro scheme on the Thames - whilst a relatively small scale scheme - led to the development of a much larger scheme at Sandford Hydro - ten times the scale of the installation at Osney. That was a key additional objective of the OLH installation - to demonstrate the art of the possible and help catalyse similar projects in the UK.
If we could do anything differently, it would be to consider the inclusion of an automatic trash screen clearer at the front of the hydro as keeping generation at optimal levels requires a fair amount of manual effort. It’s good for our fitness levels, but eats into our time as volunteers.
- Amount of energy the hydro generates per year (186,000 kWh).
- Number of fish that pass through the river.
- Number of investors in the project (over 200).
- Number of people welcomed to the site per year.
Read more: http://www.osneylockhydro.co.uk/