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Warming and Powering Homes on a Low Carbon Diet

Low Carb Lane: how can we pay less for warmer homes?

Wouldn't it be great if... energy efficiency was the easy option?

The home energy challenge

Many of us would like to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions from our energy use at home. Other people have different priorities. What we have in common is the desire to reduce our energy bills. How might energy efficiency be accessible, desirable and affordable for all - rich or poor, home owners and renters alike?

How did Low Carb Lane work?

Dott's Low Carb Lane team, led by Ben Reason and Alex Webb Allen, spent more than a year with the community at Castle Terrace. We learned about the social and economic situation of citizens affected by fuel poverty. The team then created a way to visualise energy use using a television-based 'home energy dashboard', which enables the occupier to understand where their energy is used and so control it better. They then developed a 'pay-as-you-save' scheme called SaverBox, which removes financial barriers to investing in energy-efficient home improvements.

During our time in Low Carb Lane, we learned that there are many issues surrounding energy efficiency and a variety of barriers in the way of change. The residents' main concern was the decline of the street, both physically and in terms of the community spirit. These issues far outweighed climate change and personal energy consumption.

The street is split 50/50 between owner-occupiers and tenants of private rental properties. Many of the owner-occupiers blame the decline of the community on the rise in privately rented properties. Some landlords, they say, do not invest in their properties and allow them to fall into disrepair. This results in a general decline in the physical appearance of the street as a whole. Homeowners are then less inclined to invest in their own properties, something that is beyond the financial means of many residents to begin with. These issues explain why there is apathy towards climate change.

The introduction of the energy dashboard was motivated by the suggestion by some researchers that real-time feedback raises awareness and enables people to budget. We also looked at practical changes to the products, appliances and interiors we use. We made energy savings by choosing certain products over others, from low-cost changes (light bulbs, draught excluders, curtains) to larger investments (such as A-rated white goods and boilers). We also investigated how insulating homes can significantly reduce energy consumption and generate large savings on energy bills.

We also looked at off-grid power generation - introducing solar thermal system, explaining why we chose it, and giving an objective presentation of all the pros and cons of various renewable energy technologies.

In Denmark, almost 60% of heating needs are met by district heating12

Home energy dashboard

The Low Carb Lane TV-based home energy dashboard communicates the relative savings of all the above and was displayed at the Dott 07 Festival.

With energy being an invisible entity, the only points of reference for the amount of energy we use are our utility bills. These are often complicated and many people feel they lack control over their energy spend due to a lack of transparent information.

The Low Carb Lane project was informed by several metering projects that live|work has been involved in, the most recent being a Swedish Energy Agency-funded research project called WATTCH. This explored the potential for 'smart-metering' technology (currently being rolled out in Sweden and the Netherlands) to provide clear real-time energy consumption information, in the form of a screen-based 'energy dashboard' to domestic users via their televisions, computers and mobile phones.

The WATTCH dashboard not only provided this information to empower the domestic energy consumer and raise awareness of energy use, it also proposed a reward scheme to encourage further efficiency and influence our energy behaviour.

The WATTCH project resulted in a fully working prototype that was tested in several households in Sweden. It used internet-enabled televisions and computers and received lots of positive feedback. The Low Carb Lane project has been an ideal platform to continue developing the concept, and hopefully bring the dashboard to market in the coming years. WATTCH this space!


Several people on Castle Terrace said that they'd love to cut their energy bills by 50%, but didn't have the money for the necessary home improvements.

The SaverBox, exhibited at the Dott 07 Festival, was created in response to these concerns. It is a package of energy-saving measures, such as loft and cavity-wall insulation, that make your home both cheaper to run and greener.

The idea is simple: someone either comes round to your house to perform an energy audit, or it can be done over the phone. Suitable SaverBox packages are then offered to the household - SaverBox Loft Insulation, for example.

If the household agrees to the offer, the loft insulation is provided and installed (by qualified installers) at no up-front cost. Then, each month, the household agrees to pay off the cost of the loft insulation at a rate less than the energy savings generated by the loft insulation. So, the household is paying for the insulation without feeling the financial pinch and saving energy.

Northumberland WarmZones, Ashington Credit Union, National Energy Action and the Wansbeck LIFE Initiative are involved in the SaverBox scheme. live|work hopes to replicate the scheme nationwide using the existing structure of credit unions.


It can be difficult to know how much energy you are using and how much it will cost, so live|work has created NESCO (North East Energy Service Co-operative), a proposed not-forprofit energy utility. It puts its members in control of their energy use and encourages energy efficiency by making energy understandable and the payment processes transparent.

NESCO members receive a fixed monthly payment and accurate realtime information about their energy use, so they can compare their actual use with their monthly payment.

While NESCO buys energy in bulk for cheaper than the market rate, it does not sell it on to its members at this rate as cheaper energy would not encourage energy saving. This profit goes into a pot, which is used to fund NESCO's points scheme. This rewards individual households for saving energy - for example, 'Save #10 of energy this month and get #10 of cinema tickets'.

The reward scheme could also operate on a community-wide level. The 'pot' would also fund the installation of the home energy dashboard to all members' homes, and could also provide the funding basis for communities to access renewable technologies, such as solar thermal systems, heat pumps and wood-chip boiler systems.

Hopefully, helping people to lower their energy bills and rewarding them for doing so will prove popular, and NESCO can be put into practice.

First, however, we will need to test it in a larger community to see whether it can really work.

What next?

Dott's Low Carb Lane team looked for ways to make energy loss visible, and put the information about power use on a domestic dashboard viewed on your TV screen.

So far, so good. The next step was to figure out how such a dashboard might help us change behaviour - not just sit there making us feel anxious. To this end, live|work proposed NESCO which was presented in the Dott Festival. They are now talking to potential partners about trialling the NESCO scheme in community of around 100 houses. The NESCO would act as a local energy supplier, offer energy at flat rates to both credit and pre-pay energy customers, and also offer reward points for energy saving.

Will all this happen? Within a year or so, an interactive extension of the TV dashboard system could enable members of the NESCO to network and communicate to them the potential benefits of energy saving to both individuals and the community through the reward scheme. With that in place, it would encourage investment in the physical environment and foster greater community spirit. Power to the people!

For the latest news, go to: or
For background information, visit the Energy North East website:

Low Carb Lane was led by live|work.

North East Energy Futures

The burning of fossil fuels for energy generation results in the emission of harmful gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and sulphur dioxide. These gases have been acknowledged by the world's leading scientists as key contributors to global climate change. In order to combat the effects of climate change and ensure the stability of energy supplies, renewable energy technologies are important at a local, national and global level.

Renewable energy will not run out. It comes, mostly, from the heat and light of the sun (wind, solar, wave, biomass) though some comes from the gravitational pull of the moon and the sun on the oceans (tidal) and from the hot rocks found deep within the earth (geothermal). Renewable energy does not produce the gases associated with climate change.

But what would these new energy systems look like once deployed here in the North East? Dott 07 (in partnership with Doors of Perception) commissioned Konstantinos Chalaris to create these images. They show the range of new and renewable energy technologies that could be deployed in the North East in the future in actual locations that would suit them, such as rural, urban and suburban settings as well as rivers and the sea.


CAPTION A: After visiting this small river in Northumberland, Konstantinos Chalaris designed a small scale water mill for energy production. Enchantingly, it also powers a musical instrument that emerges from the water like a water lily. It would produce a gentle musical tone to alert people to the presence of the installaton, which would otherwise remain hidden.

CAPTION B: For Newcastle's famous Tyne Bridge, Chalaris proposes wind turbines deployed in the shape of the arch to become a wind arc. Depending on wind levels, and on demand, the arc would move up or down to expose the three turbines to different degrees of wind efficiency. When there is no wind (or a large vessel is passing underneath) the system withdraws into the bridge structure.

From December 1-14, 2007, WorldChanging will be featuring articles from Dott 07 (Designs of the time 2007), a year of community projects, events and exhibitions based in North East England, explored what life in a sustainable region could be like -- and how design can help us get there.

Click here to read the introduction to the series, "Dott 07: a new industrial revolution."

A national initiative of the Design Council and the regional development agency One NorthEast, Dott 07 is the first in a 10-year programme of biennial events developed by the Design Council that will take place across the UK. The projects were small but important real-life examples of sustainable living, which will evolve and multiply in the years ahead. Several projects were delivered in partnership with Culture10, based at NewcastleGateshead Initiative. Culture10 manages North East England's world-class festival and events programme.

Dott 07 projects aim to improve five aspects of daily life: movement, health, food, school and energy. The focus of the initiative was on grassroots community projects; but there were also projects involving more than 70 schools, plus exhibitions and events in museums, galleries and rural sites. All events explore how design can improve our lives in meaningful ways.

The year culminated in a free 12-day Dott 07 Festival in Baltic Square on the banks of the River Tyne. It brought together the results of the projects and enabled all those involved to share experiences and plan what to do next. Outstanding achievements were celebrated in the Creative Community Awards. Above all, the festival was an opportunity for many more people to find out how to participate in similar projects - and thereby accelerate the region's transition to sustainability.

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Do folks know of other neighborhood energy conservation projects?

Posted by: Jim on 14 Dec 07

I saw this article about the top 10 greenest cities: I never thought I would see LA in front of Seattle and San Fran. I went to the site that published the list ( and took their carbon calculator. I got a 257 which is pretty good compared to what I think other people probably get. After I complete some pledges I think it will be much lower. Check it out it only took me like 3 minutes to get my score. The website is

Posted by: Nick on 17 Dec 07



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