Image credit: British Gas Green Streets
When UK green energy pioneers Ecotricity announced they would be supplying biogas direct to the consumer, they described themselves as "the real British gas"—a thinly veiled reference to the formerly state-owned UK gas and energy utility. But British Gas itself isn't entirely devoid of eco-initiatives. The company was pushing for the paperless kitchen table way back in 2005, and it has at least put its weight behind calls for robust action on climate change. Now British Gas is also urging communities to compete to see who can save the most energy. And there's some serious money to be won. British Gas' Green Streets program is committing £2 million (about US$3m) worth of microgeneration and energy efficiency measures which will be rolled out across fourteen British communities that will now "compete in a year long challenge to see who can do the most to cut energy use, lower carbon emissions, generate their own energy and increase engagement in these activities amongst members of their own community." The final winner will receive a further £100,000 to invest in a community project of their choice.
Projects include using a heat pump in a river to heat a community-owned outdoor pool, and a project to install solar panels on the roof of a London school. All the projects are supported by at least twenty local residents who will be attempting to lower their energy usage. Throughout the year, the Green Streets communities will be judged on their ability to reduce energy use, generate local energy and engage the local community. And the project will be monitoring progress, and learning about what works and what doesn't.
Gearoid Lane, Director of Communities and New Energy, British Gas, said:
"We believe it is people at a local level who will help revolutionise the way that energy is generated and consumed in the UK. The British Gas Green Streets project is about helping people act as trailblazers to inspire others. The communities involved in our new challenge will provide us with vital insight as we grow our locally-generated energy business and provide great new ideas for saving and generating energy that will benefit the country as a whole. We know small groups can make a big difference, and we hope these projects will benefit their communities for generations to come."
I'm sure there will be those who dismiss Green Streets as little more than greenwash. After all, US$3m is small change for a utility the size of British Gas—which is still, of course, a huge emitter of greenhouse gases. But that misses the point. The more corporations like British Gas publicly align themselves with real, boots-on-the-ground change and innovation, the quicker we will see everyone transition to a low carbon economy. And even if it is greenwash, it's greenwash of the best kind—pumping considerable cash into community-lead renewables is a whole lot more appealing than spending it on green advertising with little substance.