Bristol BRITE

Developing the municipal power sector

Awarded the title of EU Green Capital for the year 2015, the city of Bristol is a leading municipality in terms of local climate action. Bristol City Council’s ambitions in the matter were laid out in its 2012-2015 Climate Change and Energy Security Framework, adopted in 2010. The Council also has a target of 40% GHG-emission reduction by 2020 compared to 2005.

To implement its climate objectives, the Bristol City Council developed an inclusive ELENA programme. Named Bristol Retrofitting – Innovative Technologies for Everyone (BRITE), the program articulates climate targets and social priorities. It is structured around the development of a municipal energy company, the first of its kind in the UK, to provide low-cost and low-carbon energy to local residents. It is associated with a scheme to improve the energy efficiency of Bristol’s building stock and to increase local renewable energy supply.

A municipal energy company for Bristol

In May 2012, the Bristol City Council signed a contract with the European Investment Bank for BRITE programme. This initiative aims to cut CO2 emissions in the city of Bristol by 40% (i.e., by 37,800 tCO2/year). To achieve this objective, the council opted for the creation of a municipal energy company, notably to provide a framework for future investments which:

  • Is a means to centralise all activities from the council’s energy portfolio to find synergies and avoid inefficiencies;
  • Gives more responsibility to the city and includes a social dimension in energy projects;
  • Gives more flexibility as to how the Council can deliver its actions and goals;
  • Introduces a commercial dimension in energy efficiency and RES actions, to seek for the best cost-efficiency.

This municipal energy company in Bristol is conceived as a vehicle to help the council deliver its targets in terms of energy efficiency and renewable energy with cost-efficient actions. First of its kind in the United-Kingdom1 , the initiative is inspired by the existing model of the German municipal energy companies: the so-called Stadwerks.
Bristol Energy, the name given to the municipal energy company set by the programme, is to be fully operational by the end of 2015.

Renewable energy in Bristol

BRITE aims at developing the supply of affordable renewable energy to the citizens of Bristol. To a large extent, the municipal energy company will serve as a vehicle for completing this goal. It shall act as a provider of lowcarbon energy to the citizens and install renewable energy capacity in the West of England region to supply Bristol.

The Bristol City Council also supports the development of a district-heating programme in Bristol thanks to its energy company and within the framework of the BRITE programme, under which feasibility studies for the development of district heating on three sites are financed. The development of a district heating network aims at increasing the efficiency of heating in the city, and at generating electricity through cogeneration.

Effectively the entity will centralise all energy assets of the Bristol City Council, as well as its activities regarding energy demand management or other energy services. It also provides the opportunity for the council to engage local businesses in the implementation of its climate and energy targets. Moreover, it makes the link with parallel initiatives for installing renewable energy in Bristol such as the Bristol Energy Cooperative (see box below).

Community Energy in Bristol: Bristol Energy Cooperative

Alongside the Municipal Energy Company project, Bristol City Council is supporting the development of community energy programmes in the city. This allowed the development of the Bristol Energy Cooperative (BEC), a programme that encourages Bristol’s citizens to collectively invest in local energy production units.

So far Bristol Energy Cooperative issued three share offers, two of which have been completed and raised GBP 250,000 to install rooftop solar PV on community buildings for 143 kW of capacity. Future plans notably include the development of a wind farm.

The financing raised by BEC to realise these investments comes from the community. Citizens of Bristol fund the project by buying shares. This involves them in the community production process, as they are also able to contribute to future actions and the way investments are conducted. They can for instance suggest new sites for solar power implantation.

Financing the programme

The overall expected investment to be mobilised for the ELENA-BRITE programme amounts to EUR 161 million, which represents a leverage factor of 62 compared to the ELENA grant funding. At the inception of the project the Bristol City Council considered subscribing to a loan from the European Investment Bank for about half of that planned investment (GBP 70 million). In the end however the council opted for a series of loans from the UK government, a type of funding source that it has more experience with – it was merely more convenient. The high threshold of EIB loans (EUR 50 million, for an overall investment of at least EUR 100 million) was indeed an issue for the Bristol City Council, as it did not know at which speed it would be able to develop the whole ELENA-BRITE programme. The minimal size of EIB loans implied the risk that the council would be holding loans it could not invest on the spot, paying interest on money it was not using. UK government loans provided more flexibility in this regard.

Organisation & partnerships

The ELENA-BRITE programme involves actors at every level, from European Institutions to local communities thanks to the impulse of the municipality. The Bristol City Council dedicates a specific team of 5 municipal agents , mostly financed by the ELENA subsidy, to the management of ELENA-BRITE. This team:

  • Is in charge of the collaboration with the European Investment Bank, and more generally the management of the project;
  • Coordinates and monitors consultants that are employed as reinforcement of the council’s services – notably for legal, technical or financial assistance;
  • Monitors the contractors that implement on the field energy efficiency actions and renewable energy deployment;
  • Is in charge of the establishment of Bristol’s municipal energy company.

A significant part of the resources for the management of the project are dedicated to external consultants for legal, technical or financial assistance on specific tasks. These actors are called in to provide their expertise to the City Council; however they do not necessarily contribute to capacity building on the long term.

Overall the municipality is also an actor of the project through several of its services, not only the ELENA team, as it is involved in the refurbishment of its public buildings, which is expected to represent the bulk of the investment under this project. As the BRITE programme also plans for public housing to undergo retrofitting, Bristol’s public housing sector is also mobilised.

The citizens are greatly involved, notably through the Bristol Green Deal and Community energy programmes that lead them to invest in renewable energy projects or to undertake energy efficiency actions within their own houses.


The ELENA-BRITE contract was signed in May 2012, and it is still in the early phase of development. Only a limited number of actions are today in the implementation phase:

  • Social housing, retrofitting of tower blocks: 28,000 social housing units benefitted from energy retrofitting, notably external insulation
  • Private housing: households have been able to undertake retrofitting of their house thanks to the Bristol Green Deal since 2013. Before that, over 200 households benefitted from retrofitting under the Bristol Home Energy Scheme Programme.
  • Some renewable energy capacity has been installed under the community energy scheme (for instance solar panels on the roof of the hospital).

Key takeaways for other public authorities

  • The ELENA grant should primarily be dedicated to capacity-building within the municipality, as internal staff provides benefits beyond the ELENA period. Indeed, reinforcing the municipality’s capacity provides long-lasting benefits;
  • Limit the use of consultants to specialist areas that would not justify hiring a staff member;
  • ELENA should be used to develop new set of skills which can benefit the City Council.

A notable challenge faced by the council in implementing the programme came from the underestimation of the needed workforce to engage in the development of ELENA-BRITE. As a result, the number of municipal agents working on this programme increased threefold over the last months of the 3 years grant period.