The Community of Chipping

Chipping is a picturesque rural village situated in the Ribble Valley, Lancashire. It is off the gas grid and has a population of approximately 1,000 people. The heart of the village includes a conservation area with stone-built cottages including a 17th century school and almshouses endowed by John Brabin, a dyer and cloth merchant.

The village has continued to maintain a strong community focus and over the years the community has also developed local sporting facilities, a community memorial hall, and is currently in the process of developing fibre internet, through the Broadband for the Rural North (B4RN) project.

Why develop community energy?

There are over one million fossil-fuel heated homes in England which are not connected to the gas grid. From 2026, the Government are considering phasing out the installation of fossil-fuel heating in homes that are off the gas grid as part of the Net Zero Strategy.

In recent months global energy prices have also seen unprecedented increases, which impacts on everyone.

As residents, the working group recognise the challenges for individual householders to transition to low carbon heating solutions. These include:

  • High upfront costs
  • Potentially high operating costs to comfortably heat older stone properties with low carbon technologies
  • Technical and engineering challenges associated with adapting old stone buildings for low carbon heating
  • Thermal comfort levels available in older properties from low carbon heating solutions
  • Planning and development constraints associated with being in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (ANOB) and with many properties in a Conservation Area
  • Disruption to homes with the installation of new pipework and radiators

Collectively these challenges create a significant barrier to those wanting to transition to low carbon heating as individual homeowners.

What happens if we do nothing?

A key consideration for the working group was to better understand the implications of not developing a community solution – the “do nothing” scenario.

In light of UK’s Net Zero targets and the potential phasing out of fossil-fuel based heating systems that are off the gas grid from 2026, what options will local residents have when they next need to replace their boiler? Currently, the options would include:

  • Replacing existing oil or LPG boilers early before any phasing out date
  • Moving to individual low carbon heating systems
  • Moving to a biodiesel or an electric boiler solution

Whilst it’s not yet known what the Government will decide as part of its consultation around off-gas grid heating systems from 2026, it is clear that communities, such as Chipping, now need to start looking at how best to transition away from fossil fuel heating.

To support the community with this transition, the working group are keen to evaluate the opportunity and benefits for a community-wide solution. These benefits could include more affordable energy as a result of:

  • Lower upfront and operating costs, achieved by developing a shared solution that can negotiate lower build costs through economies of scale, and access capital grant funding not available to individuals.
  • More efficient technology, achieved by developing a larger shared solution. At an individual dwelling level, it is most likely that an air source heat pump (ASHP) will be the most viable low carbon heating option for most homes. However, not all homes have the space for an ASHP. By developing a shared solution, other technologies become viable, such as the shared ambient loop system being proposed.

A community wide project also increases the opportunity to get engineering support to help overcome technical challenges of heating older stone properties and professional support to design a solution suitable for the local area and its planning protections, including the ANOB and Conservation Zone.

Our journey to date

The working group successfully applied for a grant from the Rural Community Energy Fund (RCEF) and technical support from the North West Net Zero Hub, to commission the stage one feasibility study in 2021 to consider what the low carbon energy technology solutions for Chipping may be.

RCEF Stage 1
The working group, alongside Chipping Community Land Trust and the Parish Council, engaged consultants, Avieco to conduct an initial survey of the heat demand for the village. This included energy surveys and collection of energy data from residents within Chipping. They then considered various options in developing low carbon alternatives to heating oil.

This work looked at a small-scale district heating scheme which would include a network of buried heat pipes delivering heat from one of the following technologies:

  • High Temperature Ground Source heat pumps (GSHP)
  • Air Source Heat Pump network (ASHP)
  • Ambient temperature loop system vs High Temperature loop
  • Biomass Boiler network

There were concerns over the quality of information supplied by Avieco and the Chipping team asked Avieco to recalculate their initial findings. They submitted their report in November 2021 recommending a high temperature GSHP network. The advantage of this approach is that it would deliver high temperature water (approx 70’C, similar to that delivered by an oil boiler) into a property’s heating system resulting in minimal disruption for householders. However, a key feature of this system is an energy centre with multiple boreholes requiring considerable land space that would be difficult to find close to the centre of Chipping. Also, losses due to pumping high temperature water around the heating network would reduce the system efficiency. The cost and disruption of installing suitably insulated network pipes would be a challenge. However, despite these issues, much was learnt and given the current state of the energy market the working group were encouraged to continue.

RCEF Stage 2
In pursuing Stage 2 of the project, the working group bid for, and were successful in winning, further funding to develop a community based low carbon solution for Chipping village. The working group went out to tender and engaged a consultant, Prospus Group, who has suggested pursuing an ambient loop clusters solution. This has no need for a dedicated energy centre and extensive land requirement for boreholes. Instead, clusters of boreholes could service small groups of homes – typically 5 – 12. This proposal promises greater viability for the project, even for smaller communities outside of the village boundary.

You can find out more about the activities proposed in the stage 2 project here.