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WeBility - Breathing New Life into the UK's Energy System

MA 2023
Renewable Energy, Sustainability, Community Impact, Equality, Inclusivity

Disrupting traditional norms and regulations, WeBility is a transformative service that harnesses the cheaper community solar electricity to deliver affordable local services. Our innovative local hubs, meticulously designed to cater to local community needs, become epicentres of electric mobility and various community services. WeBility democratises solar energy, the cheapest source of electricity, for everyone - irrespective of income bracket or housing situation. WeBility redefines energy accessibility, driving a sustainable future for all.

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A Roller Coaster Journey of Energy

Solar energy, now the cheapest source of electricity in history, has drawn our attention for its critical role in the energy transition. Solar deployment in the UK is expected to further increase five-fold in the next decade. Contrary to the common misconception that solar doesn't work in the UK, Solar is uniquely suited for densely populated urban areas since wind turbines require a lot more space to operate. 

Despite these promises, the UK is still experiencing one of its worst energy and cost of living crises. So why does the energy crisis persist when solar energy exists as a cheaper and cleaner alternative? We discovered that the energy crisis persists because solar remains inaccessible to many due to affordability and feasibility issues. These individuals are mostly stuck in the middle - neither wealthy enough to afford renewable alternatives such as personal solar panels nor eligible for government benefits to reduce energy costs. Solar remains a luxury for homeowners with suitable roofs and sufficient disposable income.

As we delved deeper, we were struck by the potential of a new mechanism, community solar, to democratise solar access. Here’s how it works: Community solar organisations launch share offers to residents, pooling funds for solar installations, mainly on community buildings like schools, libraries, and churches. They generate revenue by selling cheap solar electricity to these buildings and any surplus back to the grid. Profits provide a modest 3-5% annual return to shareholders and creates a shared fund to assist local residents facing severe fuel poverty. Community solar enables everyone to benefit from solar, regardless of their ability to install rooftop panels. 

Unfortunately, due to regulatory constraints, community solar in the UK hasn't reached its full potential. This is because under the current regulation, energy supplier licences are very costly to obtain, so community energy organisations are not allowed to sell electricity to households. Consequently, community solar organisations are forced to sell their affordable, clean electricity to utility companies, who then markup the price and sell it back to consumers.

Just when we thought regulatory changes were the only answer, we took a step back to envision the future of energy. This inspired us to rethink the entire challenge - what if energy can be sold as a tailored service rather than a commodity? The current model of selling energy by the kilowatt hour is anyways not aligned with customers' desires for reliable services at reasonable prices. Selling community solar as a service also allows us to “short circuit” the regulation constraints because we’re a service provider rather than an energy provider.

HMW and Our Theory of Change

So how might we make solar and its benefits more accessible to the low-medium income groups in London, advance Solar adoption for the renewable energy transition, while building towards a better energy system of the future?

To achieve this, energy regulation reform is certainly essential. But we want to think beyond the current regulatory barrier, and focus on bringing resilience and growth to the community energy industry for its long-term growth instead. 

Our theory is to turn cheaper community solar electricity into more affordable community solar-powered services. As these services add value to more people, we anticipate a rise in demand for both the services and the community solar behind them, generating a virtuous cycle of growth.

We've selected electric mobility and community services as our initial focus.

E-mobility is a clear choice because vehicles are inherently mobile to be transported to community solar sites for charging. Transportation is also a vital aspect of modern life, undergoing rapid electrification. Moreover, transportation presents one of the biggest opportunities for decarbonization in the UK. 

Alongside E-mobility, we see immense potential in community-oriented services that foster convenience and connectedness among local communities, enriching their overall quality of life.  

How might we make solar and its benefits more accessible to the low-medium income groups in London, advance Solar adoption for the renewable energy transition, while building towards a better energy system of the future?

Introducing WeBility

WeBility empowers communities with many "abilities" through a more affordable electric mobility hub service powered by community solar.

Our affordable pricing is a direct result of our commitment to using community solar electricity and our brand value of sharing cost savings with the communities we serve. Instead of the 37p grid electricity, we pay a reduced rate of 14p for community solar electricity. We proudly partner with these organisations to expand solar installations to more neighbourhoods. 

Moreover, we amplify our impact by staying true to our local roots in each neighbourhood while fostering a national movement around energy. Each WeBility hub is built and continually refined by the very local residents who use it. Through our platform, users can vote and suggest new services, crafting a hub that genuinely suits their community's unique needs. Through collective decision-making, WeBility can seamlessly integrate into any neighbourhood by working hand-in-hand with local residents. We are also committed to building a better energy system. So we aim to spark change and raise awareness among our users to propel regulatory reforms for the future. 

WeBility transforms cheaper solar energy into accessible, affordable, and valuable services for all. As we reach more communities, more community solar projects will receive crucial investments from WeBility, driving us closer to a renewable future.

However, our impact doesn't end with solar accessibility and adoption. 

We connect neighbourhoods through e-mobility options, foster a sense of community by uniting residents around a service hub, stimulate local economies by creating employment, and purify the environment by reducing air pollution. With our users, we build towards a more inclusive, sustainable, and democratic energy system, shaping the future for generations to come.

As more WeBility hubs are established across the UK, we are shaping the future of energy, mobility, and community building. Solar energy becomes widely accessible. The free renewable energy from nature can be enjoyed by households at affordable prices without premium by monopolistic private companies.  WeBility hubs become local short-distance public transport - shared, clean, and affordable. We collaborate with the government to optimise and complement long-distance public transportation. WeBility creates a space for organic connections and serendipity among local communities. As people feel increasingly lonely in modern society, WeBility provides a sense of belonging.   

While we build towards this future, if the energy regulation reform succeeds, WeBility will not only remain relevant, but will thrive even more. After community energy organisations are allowed to sell electricity, they will have a stronger financial capacity to collaborate with WeBility and craft a richer offering for every hub.

An Expert Guided Co-creation Design Process 

The WeBility system is a direct result from our comprehensive workshops and interviews to ensure its desirability, feasibility, and viability. 

With the residents of Woolwich and Brixton, we conducted co-creation workshops and interviews to understand their needs and desires for such a service. We realised that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to WeBility hub setup. Different neighbourhoods have distinct service needs, and individuals have unique ways of using these services. As a result, we introduced a community voting and collective decision mechanism to ensure each hub is uniquely tailored to the needs of its neighbourhood.

Our field visits also inspired our service ideas. Discovering a poster campaign against local bus route service reduction, shared e-cargo bikes, barber buses and food trucks provided by local councils, and even an entire locker full of household items for rent to promote circular usage, we became even more excited about the potential richness of the WeBility hub service selection.

Our design process is guided by a wide range of experts on every topic we cover to help us navigate the complex energy system in the UK and best practices globally. We also invited community energy experts to assess WeBility's technological feasibility and financial viability. Our concept’s potential has received acknowledgement and validation from many experts.   


‍We want to take a moment to acknowledge the vital contributions that made our final project a great success and a rewarding experience. 

A special thank you goes to our tutors at the Royal College of Art who have been instrumental in shaping our design process. Their expertise and consistent support have been nothing short of invaluable, driving us to exceed our potential. 

We would also like to thank the industry experts who graciously lent us their time and shared their knowledge, providing us with practical insights that greatly enriched our work. 

Lastly, but by no means least, our gratitude extends to the local residents we interviewed. Their openness, kindness, and willingness to help provided an authentic touch to our project, grounding our work in reality. Their involvement was an essential element that brought life and relevance to our endeavour. 

To all who have contributed, we are immensely grateful for your part in our journey, as each of you have left indelible marks on our project and our growth as designers. Thank you.

Thank you Richard Atkinson for being our project tutor - the best guide possible! 

Our tutors from the Royal College of Art in alphabetical order:

Andrea Edmunds

Clive Grinyer

Carolyn Runcie

Dan Phillips

Judah Armani

Our industry experts in alphabetical order:

Dr Anna Rebmann, Lecturer in Energy Social Entrepreneurship, Kings College London

Cecilia Aguillon, Director of the Energy Transition Initiative, Kyocera Solar

Eva Godouneix,  Community Engagement Manager, Repowering London

Giovanna Speciale, CEO and founder, South East London Community Energy (SELCE)

Gustavo Montes De Oca, Nadder Community Energy

Kevin Yeun, Head of Service Design, Spotless 

Keiron Stopforth,  Origination Manager, Octopus Energy / HBS

Laura Sandys, Chair, Government energy digitisation taskforce 

Meher Ben Marzouk, Senior Manager, Energy and Natural Resources, Bain and Company

Dr. Mary Gillie, Founder, Energy Local

Nicky Dee, Climate-tech VC Cofounder, Carbon 13, Cambridge University 

Tom Draisey, Solar Storage Expert Consultant,  EY 

Dr. Uttara Narayan, Researcher, Energy Demand & Racial Justice, Oxford University  & WRI India

Val Mitchel , Co-design in energy researcher, professor, Loughborough University

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