The UK’s community solar revolution
In the last 18 months the UK has seen a rise in the number of community solar PV installation projects across the country. With Government schemes such as the FiT (Feed in Tariff) and Renewable Heat incentive, coupled with a drop in installation prices, investing in solar for non-domestic buildings is an attractive option. The community solar movement is fast gathering speed: the visibility of solar panels on the roofs of schools, church halls, housing associations and energy cooperatives is inspiring others to follow suit. Solar is one of the most accessible routes to the micro generation of sustainable low carbon power. And, not only do these kinds of projects mean that communities reduce their carbon emissions, and lower their bills, they also divert power away from the ‘Big Six’ energy companies controlling 99% of UK supplies back into the hands of the local people.
In his seminal book Small Is Beautiful: Economics As If People Mattered E.F. Schumacher wrote that the future health of mankind, and the planet, depended on us working together on a smaller, more appropriate scale. He believed that the way forward was for communities to take control of their local economies, technologies, and renewable energy generation. In this way, things function on a human, rather than corporate scale: people need to have a say, and a stake in local ownership and local government to feel engaged, connected and valued. Although his book was written nearly half a century ago, it is particularly pertinent today.
The wave of UK community solar projects is a welcome sign that Schumacher’s way of thinking might be actually be taking root. Behind such community projects stand a dedicated band of UK not-for-profit groups, organisations and energy companies whose ambition is to see an energy progressive society free from fossil fuels by supporting a revolution in local, sustainable energy generation. The work of some of the major players is outlined below:
Southern Solar are one of the UK’s leading solar companies and have been instrumental in the development of a large number of community solar projects in the UK, including Melin Homes, a housing association for affordable homes in Brecon, Wales. Melin was the first housing association to self-fund solar PV on their housing stock. Southern Solar Installed 1.5kW systems on 24 homes, saving the tenants an average of £100 a year on their electricity bills, as well as communicating the importance of energy saving. With the cost of fuel now skyrocketing in the UK, these kinds of projects help to tackle increasing fuel poverty.
Southern Solar’s director Howard Johns is commitment to green energy and his efforts in the “Cut don’t Kill” campaign against Government’s changes to the Feed in Tariff earned him and his company respect and renown. On October 10th 2012 Johns was awarded the prestigious Microgen Champion of the Year by the Microgen Power Council for his commitment and contribution to the industry.
The Transition Network was founded in 2007 by Rob Hopkins with Totnes as the very first Transition Town. Set up in response to peak oil, climate destruction and economic instability, it is now a movement that is well established across the UK and is spreading rapidly to towns and cities worldwide. The aims of the Transition Network are based on the principles of permaculture, where sustainable and ecologically resilient communities control their own local socioeconomics, reduce consumption and pollution and prepare for the challenges of climate change.
“Transition Initiatives, community by community, are actively and cooperatively creating happier, fairer and stronger communities, places that work for the people living in them and are far better suited to dealing with the shocks that'll accompany our economic and energy challenges and a climate in chaos”
The Transition Network supports community led initiatives by raising awareness, and facilitating community action. They have been involved in the development of a number of solar community projects nationwide including the Westmill Solar Cooperative, a community renewable energy project near Swindon and one of the largest UK community owned solar farms.
Ovesco is a not-for-profit energy community company based in the small town of Lewes in the South of England whose inspiring projects have attracted international attention. Improving the future energy efficiency of communities and generating local decentralised heat and power are this organisations priorities.
They provide advice, assistance with funding, and guidance on reducing energy consumption, as well as consultation on installation. They have supported a number of successful campaigns for solar projects in the South East. In 2011 they built one of the country’s first community owned PV power stations, installing 100kW on the roof of the local brewery. Ovesco raise capital from the local community to fund projects and have successfully developed a portfolio of community owned micro generation sites. Last year, with the help of Transition Towns Lewes, they assisted Lewes Priory School’s campaign for the successful installation of solar panels on the roof of the school. A system which will generate in excess of 35,000kwh of solar electricity a year, and help to reduce energy bills by an estimated £3,000, as well as carbon emissions.
But these kinds of community projects can only succeed with the collaboration and agreement of individuals within any given community: a willingness to embrace a new paradigm.
Prashant Vaze, Chief Economist of Consumer Focus and author of ‘Repowering Communities’ believes that the way to move forward is by embracing change and working together. In an article for Green Alliance he wrote:
“Moving to a sustainable energy system is about change. Not just change in the way we use energy but a change in how communities make decisions. Through courting people’s enthusiasm for making a difference, for making things better, this change can be a seen as a virtue and not a burden.”
Tara Gould is a writer who likes to communicate creatively for companies and third sector organisations that really mean something to her, specialising in all thing eco and ethical.