The residents of the village of Woolsery in Devon decided they wanted to update their drafty old community hall with a new one that would have more facilities, be warm, inviting and sustainable.
“Our main theme was that it was going to be an asset for our children not a liability. And an asset meant it was going to last a long time, be low maintenance and it was going to be low running costs so they could afford to use it and afford to keep using it.” Brian, committee member
Through a number of grants, the people of Woolsery were particularly lucky to afford to completely rebuild their hall and take advantage of the opportunity to maximise energy efficiency opportunities.
They started with insulation, underfloor heating, rainwater collection from the roof to flush the toilets, and south facing windows to maximise sunlight. A few years later, they decided to go all the way and generate their own renewable power and heat.
Using a “virtuous circle” of wind, sun and earth Woolsery Hall now generates its own electricity, sells surplus back to the grid, has dropped its running costs by 90% and created an income.
Accordingly, Woolsery Hall offers an example of many different aspects that other halls could pick and choose from for inspiration depending on their circumstances, or follow their complete model.
Being in a windy location, the hall committee’s first idea was that they could generate electricity with a wind turbine.
The committee checked their estimated average wind speed using an online wind data calculator that provides data by postcode area.
This gave the hall an indication of the average wind speed that may be available in their area, which combined with the open aspects at the hall made the wind turbine a good option.
You can use a similar tool to gauge the potential wind speed in your area and get an idea of the range of generation and cash back payments that might be available. Go to the DECC website for a similar tool.
Whilst getting advice from renewable energy advisors at the local county council, they also started thinking of solar PV and a ground source heat pump. For solar PV, they checked the roof aspect – they have a south facing, sloping roof that fits within recommended criteria.
The group also had their grid connection checked to ensure all their renewable power generators could be connected to the grid, enabling them to sell any surplus electricity they would generate. Their grid connection limited them to connecting a maximum power output of 15 kW to the grid, which in turn influenced their decisions on size of wind turbine and solar PV to install.
The hall then took into consideration the grants available as to their budget range and so capacity of equipment they purchased.
Woolsery Hall is a registered charity, run by a voluntary committee of 20 people. The Hall was set up as a charity when it was built, as it operates not for profit and for the good of the community, so a charity was the most appropriate set up to go forward.
In addition to reducing their energy costs, Woolsery Hall sell their surplus energy into the grid. The amount sold varies as not only can generation levels vary, so can the energy requirements of the hall. This means that savings on their bill and income from selling surplus, is balanced by times when they still purchase electricity from the grid if their energy needs are high at a time when generation is low. This is common in many renewable energy projects.
But on balance, after offsetting costs against their income and bill savings, they are just over £3,800 ahead annually which means that they have been able to reduce the total energy costs of the hall by 90 per cent from around £10 to around £1 per day.
“That’s brilliant, that’s success, that’s what we wanted.” Brian, committee member
Lower running costs means that the hall is able to pass on new services as well as lower charges, making it a much more social destination. It’s also a source of education, being regularly used by the local school, but also for residents of all ages to learn about renewable energy.
Lower booking costs
Over 30 groups use the hall, from tiny tots and birthday parties, to sports groups and social clubs.
“The hall is very important for this village, it’s the centre point. We put on a yearly pantomime, we put on yearly concerts and this is a place where people can gather together.” Yvonne, Chair of Woolsery Hall Committee
Whilst other town halls may charge up to £15 for a three-hour session, Woolsery Hall can afford to only charge £8.
Now lots more people use the hall, not just because its cheaper to hire but also because some of their renewable energy is keeping the beer nice and cold for the social club, making it a very popular venue!
Woolsery also attract a new source of bookings, by being a showcase eco hall. The hall is now so popular booking is definitely recommended in advance!
“We recently welcomed a large exploration group, with people who’d travelled from all over the world. They loved the renewables and asked a lot about the wind turbine.” Yvonne, Chair of Woolsery Village Hall
Spread the green word
Groups of school children come to the Hall to learn about the renewable energy that runs it. This exposure has resulted in environmental choices becoming second nature to this younger generation.
“They don’t see any obstacles and to them it’s common sense. It’s not something to argue about. It’s something that’s out there. Why are we still burning oil if we can make energy in a green way?” Matt, schoolteacher
But it’s not just the children who are interested.
“People come here and they will come into the foyer and they will have a look up at our energy source system. There’s a graph there to show how much energy the wind turbine is producing at the time and it’s surprising how many people will stand and have a look and see what a wonderful system we’ve got.” Yvonne, Chair of Woolsery Village Hall.
Set up costs
All renewable energy components cost £82,000 to install. £44,000 was for the solar PV, £23,000 for the wind turbine and £12,000 for the ground source heat pump.
The renewables were paid for by a mix of grants and funds raised by the village through fetes, raffles and auctions. Given costs were covered up front, there was no pay back time. However, if the Hall had not received grant funding, under the Feed-in tariff scheme (FITs) system that’s available today, the time to payback the costs of installing their system would be approximately 10 years.
Overall the system is very low maintenance. The filter on the ground source heat pump needs to be cleaned around once a year, to keep it running efficiently, which the committee members do themselves. The wind turbine has an annual service, costing around £250, which will vary from site to site. Solar PV panels have very little maintenance. Depending on where they are situated they may need to be cleaned occasionally.
When the committee members decided on solar PV and a wind turbine, it was a decision mainly based on available funding. However, this turned out to be an extremely effective combination given that by being able to generate energy in both sunny and windy conditions, they are able to generate at a higher percentage of times, reducing their “low” periods.
Woolsery Hall strongly recommend talking to people who have the equipment themselves.
“Go and see somebody who’s got a turbine, who’s got a photovoltaic, speak to them, ask them what it’s like and I’m sure they’d be very happy to show you.” Brian, committee member
The committee also communicated well with the village, which helped when they came to applying for planning as they already had community support for their proposal. They found that the chief concerns to address were the size of the turbine and ensuring that nearby residents would not experience any glare from the solar PV.
The hall has been so successful they are planning to extend the building to create more space for use, plus add another 4 kWp of solar PV given a recent discovery that by adding an extra cable, they are able to increase the volume they can export and sell to the grid.
Current contribution to the grid
Each year the hall generates the equivalent electricity to that used by 5.8 houses a year and after taking some of this energy for its own use, it currently exports enough to power 2.4 houses.
Using the ground source heat pump, the Hall also generates the equivalent heat to that used by 1.1 homes a year.
Tips on creating your own Woolsery Hall
For a wind turbine, it is recommended to have a site that has wind speed in excess of five metres per second. In Woolsery the 6 kW wind turbine is mounted on a 15 metre mast and installed on clear land to the side of the hall.
Solar PV requires a roof that faces between 90 degrees of south. The panels then need to be mounted at an angle to maximise efficiency. Woolsery Hall has 56 x 162 watt panels.
The recommended size of a ground source heat pump depends on the area that you are hoping to heat. Woolsery Hall is a 1700m2 building and uses an 8 kW system. Note – GSHPs do increase electricity usage and so you need to plan as to where that power is going to come from, and should ideally use a renewable electricity source. The one at Woolsery Hall uses power generated by the solar PV and wind turbine.
Planning and permissions
Woolsery required planning permission for the installation of the wind turbine and the solar PV, although not for the ground source heat pump.
How to get started
Get people together involved in your town hall, look into funding options and what renewable energy may be suited to your location.