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Swaffham Prior Renewable Heat Network wins sustainability leadership award

17 November 2023

Swaffham Prior Renewable Heat Network, the UK’s first retrofitted village heat network, has won the prestigious Edie Net Zero Award for Renewable Energy Project of the Year. A community-led project delivered by Cambridgeshire County Council working in partnership with the Swaffham Prior Community Land Trust, Government and Bouygues Energies and Services Ltd.

The Edie Awards – formerly known as the Sustainability Leaders Awards – are the world’s largest sustainable business awards and recognise green projects which are transforming the energy landscape for good.

This innovative project will enable villagers to ditch their oil tanks and storage heaters and switch to a clean renewable heat network using ground and air source heat pumps installed at the newly created energy centre.

When powered by the County Council’s new solar farm from next year, the heat network will cut carbon emissions from heating and hot water for connected homes by almost 99%.

The aim of this project was to demonstrate a new business model to support communities to switch to more environmentally friendly heating and remove the cost barriers surrounding access to sustainable energy technology across the community. It is also intended to help prevent future fuel poverty.

Already 60 homes are connected to the renewable heat network with more planned. The first homes connected at the end of last year with residents reporting great satisfaction with the heat they received last winter.

Swaffham Prior is a small village in East Cambridgeshire, which is off the gas network. The majority of residents rely on oil to power their heat and hot water. In a village where a sixth of residents live in social housing, affordable heat is a cost-of-living issue as well as an environmental concern. This project will also help save money for those residents on expensive electrical heating, cut oil consumption and help budget for essential energy costs.

There are more than 25,000 homes in Cambridgeshire - and around 4.4m houses across Great Britain - that are off the gas grid. The Swaffham Prior project provides a new business model for community-wide adoption of renewable heat and off-gas communities have been in touch wanting to replicate the project.

Chair of Cambridgeshire County Council’s Environment and Green Investment Committee, Councillor Lorna Dupre said: “The challenges of climate change also present opportunities for innovative solutions. A retrofitted heat network has never been achieved before in the UK. It’s fantastic that our work has been recognised at the Edie Awards for leading the way in decarbonising energy at scale.

“We’re not just taking a community off oil; we’re also developing a blueprint to meet the energy needs of rural communities as we look towards a low carbon future. This sort of solution is critical not just for Cambridgeshire’s villages, but for all places off the gas grid across the country to ensure a just transition to Net Zero for everyone.”

The Edie Awards winners were announced on 15 November 2023.