The SONNET (‘SOcial iNNovation in Energy Transitions’) project’s Bristol City Lab is a research project exploring new ways to finance energy efficiency and renewable energy investment in community buildings in Bristol. The City Lab partners are Bristol City Council, the Science Policy Research Unit at the University of Sussex and BEN, and the project will run until summer 2021.

BEN’s role is to undertake engagement activities with community building managers and Bristol citizens to explore energy efficiency works in community buildings and the possibility of using investment-based crowdfunding to fund these works.

This is a great opportunity for community buildings to lead the way on energy efficiency in their communities, an approach which has been at the heart of BEN’s city-wide thinking for a long time. Many of the community buildings in Bristol are owned by Bristol City Council and leased to community organisations, but are often left out of City Council energy upgrades. This project aims to understand how to unlock these.

1. Energy survey and audits for community buildings

The SONNET project is surveying community buildings and offering up to 12 free energy audits. Carrying out an energy audit can be the first step towards many benefits for community buildings, including:

  • Accessing funding for solar panels and other renewable energy
  • Understanding how you can reduce your energy bills
  • Taking a leadership and education role on energy literacy in your community

There are two steps to participating as a community building manager:

  1. Complete the SONNET survey developed by BEN. This is open to all community building managers and will contribute to an asset map of community buildings in Bristol. Ideally you will have access to a recent energy bill when completing this survey. However please do not be put off if you do not, as all answers given will be useful. We can follow up with you to support your completion of the survey if needed. 
  2. Community buildings owned by Bristol City Council are also eligible for a free professional energy audit which is a more technical assessment. You have to complete the survey first to be selected for a full audit and there are 12 of these available to responding managers. 

If community buildings are not eligible for the full audit, they can receive some support from BEN with advice on where to access funding, how to communicate about energy with your communities, and how other members of the network can support you in your energy journey. 

The BEN open meeting in June 2020 started to discuss some of the possibilities that the project might develop, exploring with members and building managers how community buildings can save energy and engage their communities, the blog write up is here.

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BCC has one free 12 KW Solar Panel System (PV) to offer a suitable Bristol City Council owned property. Responses from the SONNET survey will be assessed to shortlist suitable buildings. 

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2. Citizen survey for community involvement / investment in their buildings

Whilst understanding what elements of energy efficiency improvements need undertaking and which ones would pay for themselves over a reasonable timescale is one side of the project, of equal interest is how communities perceive and engage with these buildings. This then forms the background to how an investment-based crowdfunding model might be developed that would attract local support and funding from the building users and surrounding communities in the city. 

One such funding model is a ‘Community Municipal Bond’ (CMB) which is a council backed, low risk investment providing modest financial returns, but which additionally have positive social and environmental impacts locally. These could be used to bring in small investments from many people across the city to improve their local buildings. Such funding, as well as improving energy efficiency, creating renewable energy sources, and reducing bills, might also help engage building users with energy and spur them to action in their own homes.

We have developed our ‘SONNET Citizen survey’ to assess if and how such investment models might be developed. Please do respond and let us know what you think: BEN Citizen Survey

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See additional information for research participants to find out more about our privacy policy and how we will use your data.

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More information about the SONNET project:

The Bristol City Lab is just one element of SONNET (Social Innovation in Energy Transitions) which is a project with partners across Europe who will share knowledge for energy innovation.

Learn more about SONNET in Bristol.

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No. 837498.

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