Community Solar hits the big time!

Brighton Energy Cooperative is surging ahead to make community energy into big business as it plans big solar power developments. It may herald a wider move of community energy companies into organising projects with local businesses.

Brighton Energy Cooperative (BEC) has already organised 62 different solar pv arrays in a variety of different businesses, schools and churches, but its latest project is to organise a big project at Shoreham Port.

Brighton Energy Cooperative (BEC) has been going for ten years and its three paid members of staff have developed an effective knack of persuading local businesses to source cheap, green electricity by installing solar pv on its roofs. Matt Brown, one of the three full-time BEC workers explained:

‘’We get some enquries through the website and we also look at rooftops on google earth and follow up good prospects. It’s hard work – it’s a sales job – we have to do a lot of talking to different people and we end up with a 10 per cent success rate interms of converting our initial enquiries into actual projects.People are suspicious of somebody offering something for nothing! We aim for companies with a high onsite power demand such as warehouses, refrigeration companies and manufacturers or processors’. BEC have also set up 10 school rooftop projects as part of the Brighton and Hove Solar for Schools project.

But now BEC is planning some much bigger projects, and the first in the queue is likely to be a 15MW array at Shoreham Port, with whom BEC has worked previously. The port already has various renewable energy projects, but the latest project will include wind, solar and hydrogen developments. BEC is also planning projects with SMEs without the support of feed-in tariffs. Hitherto all of BEC’s 62 projects have been funded through the solar feed-in-tariff (FIT), but with just four of these left in the pipeline, BEC is looking to start projects on a subsidy-free basis – that is apart from some megaprojects like Shoreham where there will be other partners from the energy sector.

Matt Brown adds: ‘BEC raises equity funds from its 700 members to fund the solar arrays which are owned by BEC. We then sell power to the site hosts. We’re offering to sell them power at 10-11 p/kWh now that the FIT has ended. It means that we won’t be able to raise so much for community purposes. So far we are heading towards raising around £1million for community purposes on the basis of the FIT schemes. But even without the FIT local businesses will still be able to access green energy and lower their electricity bills at the same time’. So far BEC has raised around £3.5 million from the members of the cooperative to pay for the projects to be installed. BEC sub-contracts with solar pv installers to implement the projects.

There are other community energy companies in Brighton, let alone the hundreds throughout the rest of the country. But recently a national initiative, the Big Solar Coop, has been launched which hopes to help local community energy projects by infusing expertise of various types to help local projects get going. They are offering training sessions to people so that they can go out and find sites in their area and work with Big Solar Coop to develop them.

by David Toke

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