Bulk buy schemes: community discounts for energy efficiency

CSE’s Bridget explains how to get a good deal for everybody

15 July 2014

Now is a great time for local energy groups to be looking at bulk buy schemes. There is a huge amount of media attention and public interest in energy prices, fuel poverty and national energy security. Recently introduced government subsidies, discounts, cashback deals, payments and incentives can make energy saving improvements even more attractive.

What’s great about bulk buy is that a local group can set up a scheme which is very low cost and easy to run (e.g. they get a discount for bulk purchasing low energy lightbulbs or draught-proofing materials from a supplier, and sell them on to community members at a reduced price)  - or you can set your sights on something much more ambitious (e.g. solar panel installations or a whole street retrofit). The endorsement of a trustworthy local community group provides a level of reassurance to local people, and keeping it local means you can focus on products and services most suited to the local area.

Here at CSE we think bulk buy schemes are a great way for community groups to make a real difference to low cost, energy efficient running of homes, not least because they get people talking. Local, visible schemes create a sense that your neighbours are interested in and taking action on low carbon retrofit and this helps to build a ‘social norm’ around energy efficiency. Most people don’t want to be the odd one out, and the perception that ‘everyone else is doing it’ means more people will start to make changes. And that’s something which is desperately needed when we still have such a long way to go to bring our housing stock up to scratch.

Here's a short animation we made on the topic, as part of our PlanLoCaL toolkit which you can access at www.planlocal.org.uk

An example: Manchester's Carbon Co-op

Carbon Co-op is community benefit society, owned and run by its members. Their aim is to make energy saving improvements more affordable and simpler to buy. To help to make this happen, they have set up a number of bulk buy schemes so local householders can club together and get discounts on low carbon products and services. Jonathan Atkinson, who co-founded Carbon Co-op explains: “It’s all about member benefits and collaborating to get the costs down. When you join the Co-op, you get access to deals like cheaper energy monitors, insulation, a home energy survey, solar panels…”

In this example, the Co-op is a membership organisation, and to benefit from their bulk buy initiatives, local people need to sign up and pay a small joining fee. That entitles them to a whole range of member discounts. Having a good pool of members give the Co-op a stronger negotiating position to get discounts from businesses and suppliers.

But if co-ops, memberships, and fees are not your thing, don’t worry. As with most community energy projects, there are many different ways to go about it. Different things work in different places, and approaches to setting up a basic bulk buy scheme can actually be very simple. The Carbon Co-op, for example, has developed a wide range of different schemes across Greater Manchester using different approaches. They've done:

  • Member discounts – the Co-op negotiated 5% discounts for members on a range of products and services like equipment from B&Q or car club membership.
  • Solar PV – the Co-op negotiated discounts for solar PV installations from one preferred supplier, in return for increased business from Co-op members
  • Triple glazing – Carbon Co-op agreed a 5% discount on triple glazing for its members from the Green Building Store.
  • LED bulbs – here the Co-op negotiated a bulk buy deal from a wholesaler. Having bought the bulbs, they then sell them on to members at a discount.
  • Whole house retrofit – Carbon Co-op is currently carrying out a huge project retrofitting homes in the Greater Manchester area. The Co-op has separate contracts with each of 12 home owners, and by batching up work tasks and offering a larger contract to installers they have been able to negotiate bulk purchase discounts which would not have been possible for individual householders. Work at this scale is obviously much more costly than some of the other Co-op schemes (prices range from £20,000 to £50,000 per property). So 0% loans for householders have been arranged through the council and Government, along with Green Deal cashback and ECO grants.

If you're part of a local energy group, why not give a bulk buy scheme a try? If you want to know more about how to get started, there are some links and resources below, or contact our national community energy support team at: communities@cse.org.uk.

Want to know more?

Bulk buy schemes

 Help from PlanLoCaL (Planning for Low Carbon Living)

 Green Open Homes

Image: Carbon Co-op

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