The West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) is showing its commitment to helping residents and businesses through the global energy crisis, with several initiatives aimed at reducing carbon emissions and slashing ever increasing energy bills.

The region had already been experiencing high levels of fuel poverty before Covid and the Ukraine crisis, and with energy prices expected to continue to rise for households in the months ahead the WMCA’s Energy Capital team has been focusing on securing government funding for new initiatives that could help lessen the impact.

The team’s newly created SMART Hub is taking forward initiatives that include reducing costs through energy efficiency measures, as well as a raft of other retrofit initiatives, such as super-efficient insulation and solar panels for old and cold homes.

With the region’s businesses also facing fuel price volatility due to a reliance on global energy imports, Mayor of the West Midlands and chair of the WMCA, Andy Street, is to host a roundtable with industry leaders to identify new and smarter ways to generate and store energy locally and improve energy security. The publication of a report by Energy Capital on a ground-breaking project to develop smarter regional energy systems (RESO), comes as Chancellor Rishi Sunak yesterday (Wednesday March 23rd) announced tax reductions on the installation of renewable technologies including 0% VAT on solar panels.

The report on the West Midlands RESO project, funded with nearly £3 million from government agency Innovate UK, demonstrates that by focusing action at a city-wide scale – in this case Coventry – and by managing demand and supply more smartly, energy systems can become more efficient, helping to tackle fuel poverty, and bring real financial benefits for households and local authorities. The report’s key findings also showed that £720m of value savings could be achieved over a 30-year period, at today’s prices.  

The Mayor said: “The global climate emergency and soaring energy bills are impacting us all and I’m determined that the region will take a leadership role in delivering solutions at a local level.

“Like many places across the UK, we can’t rely on energy generation in the West Midlands, and so we have to be smarter – finding solutions that maximise what we do have rather than merely trying to generate more. We hope that our approach will inform government thinking and become a model that can be replicated across the country.”

The West Midlands RESO project, which has already been highly commended by Innovate UK, is now helping to shape the region’s emerging devolution deal with central government. The RESO report, which follows the recent launch of the Government’s Levelling Up White Paper, demonstrates how real benefits for households and businesses can be gained and identifies ways to ensure energy security that could be applied nationally.

Energy Capital is also working with Ofgem to ensure existing network operators respond to the energy needs and growth ambitions of the West Midlands and invest appropriately.

Alongside this, Energy Capital is developing new infrastructure solutions to meet the heating needs of the region. This has led to the WMCA recently signing a Memorandum of Understanding with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s (BEIS) Heat Network Delivery Unit, to develop a proposed heat network scheme in Walsall.

Having secured £163,000 to support the project development work, the scheme will ultimately harness waste heat and potentially provide valuable heating for Walsall Manor Hospital and its surrounding communities and businesses.

Councillor Ian Courts, leader of Solihull Council and WMCA portfolio lead for environment, energy & HS2, said “We’re acutely aware of the impact that the energy crisis will have on residents across the West Midlands in the coming months and years.

“To try to help keep people’s energy bills down, both now and in the future, we are investing in innovative sources of low-carbon energy production and retrofitting homes to make them warm and energy efficient. One example is the £2.86m of funding recently announced to retrofit 300 homes in Solihull and Coventry.

“Using less energy and making energy production more sustainable by using renewable sources are amongst the interventions and strategies we are pursuing to directly benefit our residents and businesses. We’re making sure the principles of futureproofing and self-sufficiency are embedded throughout these projects, so we build a practical and sustainable green future.”