A legacy story: Creating a thriving zero-carbon economy in Oxfordshire

The OxFutures programme has created a step-change in the growth of Oxfordshire’s low-carbon economy, driving a pioneering transformation at a business, academic and innovation level.

Using the skills, knowledge, and resources of its six partner organisations in concert has led to powerful local impacts, which provide solutions to how the county will reach net zero. We have created an engine of ambitious zero-carbon innovation and a legacy that will transform our region with a local vision for our global future.

The expertise of our two globally renowned universities has been utilised to facilitate knowledge exchange and drive innovation in the energy sector. Our efforts to develop a smart grid for Oxfordshire have culminated in a successful bid for £42m of Innovate UK funding, leading to the establishment of Project LEO (Local Energy Oxfordshire). As a result, we have gained a deeper understanding of the necessary adaptations at the low-voltage grid edge to effectively manage and balance the shift towards electric heating and transportation. Furthermore, we have forged strategic partnerships to ensure the successful implementation of these initiatives.
Fourteen knowledge transfer workshops attracted 643 business, academic, and local government participants, from 398 different organisations and transferred the expertise and ideas from our universities into the commercial sector.

Six electric vehicle business breakfasts accelerated the adoption of EV vehicles and charging infrastructure and led to the first EV Summit, which is now a national annual two-day conference at the Saïd Business School. In turn, the EV Summit has helped facilitate conversations for new EV projects in the city, including Energy Superhub Oxford, a £41m decarbonisation project which saw the installation of Europe’s most powerful EV charging hub at Redbridge Park & Ride.

Oxfordshire Greentech is a low-carbon business support and networking organisation spun out of OxFutures. It is now brokering relationships between hundreds of smaller dynamic innovators, academics, large corporates, and green finance investors, promoting pan-regional opportunities across the Oxford Cambridge Arc with its sister organisation Cambridge Cleantech. Together they are working to develop a climate tech super-cluster of innovative businesses. One hundred and fifty people attended Greentech’s recent Access to Finance Conference in March 2023.

OxFutures introduced Retrofit Works, a pilot domestic retrofit model, into Oxfordshire from its launch-bed in London. This led to a successful local pilot, which secured funding from BEIS (the then Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) to scale up and develop as a commercial business.

Urban neighbourhood-scale change was investigated through renewable and waste-heat feasibility studies in Rose Hill, Oxford. This has led to the Clean Heat Streets programme which is piloting the roll-out of heat pumps at street scale and an investment-ready district heat network proposal. The successful rural neighbourhood-scale project established a new Community Land Trust organisation in Hook Norton, which is building 12 Passivhaus homes and a community building for local people, also including a micro-grid and an EV charging point for a shared car. OxFutures introduced the Trust to Greencore, their carbon-positive building partner, and Oxford Advanced Living, their loan provider, and was instrumental in funding consultancy, architectural plans, and prestart on-site project management and de-risking the project to secure Board approval.

OxFutures has funded eight new start-up businesses, all of which have survived the pandemic. Our pre-commercialisation feasibility funding has allowed Duffin Associates and Electrogenic to go on to win significant Innovate UK funding to scale their work. Electrogenic is now retrofitting electric motors to Land Rovers as well as other classic cars, and has spun out an additional company, Green Narrowboats, to electrify pleasure boats. A further nine new low carbon products and services have been funded, two thirds of which have been successful. Between them, these early-stage companies and products are saving 880 tonnes of CO2 a year and have potential to save more as they grow.

Building energy audit reports have been delivered to 182 businesses, charities, and social enterprises across Oxfordshire. These contain impartial low carbon recommendations, representing an average 31,000 kWh of potential energy savings per organisation. A third of those assisted applied for our follow-up implementation funding (£1,000 to £10,000 grants) to make changes to their buildings.

Evaluation of 507 of the recommendations (out of a total of more than 1,200) showed that 44% had been completed and 17% were partially completed, saving 996 tonnes of CO2 a year and significant operating costs. Organisations reported that only 15% of recommendations would not be carried out. Of those receiving advice, 52 were not-for-profit organisations, who can now deliver additional social-benefit activities, due to reduced utility bills. This work led to a successful bid to BEIS, to establish a commercial SME retrofit service, Energy Solutions Oxfordshire, which is looking to scale its impact. In 2022 it created £1.8m of investment in low carbon technology and helped a further 72 businesses.

And this amazing legacy has been delivered for an investment of only £4.2m of European Regional Development Fund money.

Explore OxFutures’ case studies below: