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NCS Newsletter June 2021

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Welcome to the NCS Newsletter keeping members and supporters up-to-date with projects, meetings, and events of interest to community energy!

Community Renewal Fund bid

NCS has partnered with RenEnergy to submit a funding bid to the Community Renewal Fund (CRF) to carry out a study on the feasibility of “Solar Mobility Hubs”.

RenEnergy Solar Carport
RenEnergy Solar Carport, Aviva, Norwich

How can we reduce traffic and congestion in urban centres like Norwich? How can we reduce early deaths caused by air-borne pollutants such as diesel particulates? If you had an electric vehicle (EV) on a terraced street in Norwich how would you charge it? In any case, wouldn’t it be great if our streets were free of parked cars? A switch to electric vehicles (EVs) alone will not achieve a reduction in traffic. But a switch from individually owned vehicles, often only carrying one passenger per trip, to electric vehicles (cars & vans) available for hire or use from accessible community facilities, combined with greater availability of EV public transport, could be a sustainable way forward to revolutionise our mobility.

Our proposed “Solar Mobility Hubs” (SMHs) would be designed to overcome the limitations of grid supplies to community parking areas by reinforcing supply through on-site solar PV panel generation combined with battery storage. The concept is to supply EV charging points situated in strategically located solar mobility hubs for use by car clubs, hire firms, individual users, and commercial companies. The SMHs would be supported by solar PV arrays mounted on carports providing shade as well as solar power (see photograph). Connected by renewable energy powered public transport (electric and hydrogen) the hubs could provide the encouragement to move away from individual car ownership and offer acceptable and attractive mobility options. Our bid is for funding to explore the feasibility of this proposal.

Before getting into the detail of the bid here is a little background to the Community Renewal Fund (CRF). The CRF is a precursor to the new UK Shared Prosperity Fund (SPF) which aims to match funds that would have come through EU Structural Funds if we had remained in the European Union. The SPF will be worth around £1.5 billion a year launching in 2022. The £220 million CRF for 2021-22 is intended to pilot new approaches in preparation for the implementation of SPF programmes.

Our proposed study is to prepare Norfolk for the accelerated uptake of clean Electric Vehicle (EV) transport by individual, public and commercial users through the provision of community, solar supported, EV charging points. The aim is to create a national blueprint for any Local Authority to implement.

This study is more than simply replacing existing fossil-fuelled vehicles with EVs. We need to reduce the number of vehicles on the road through a change in behaviour from individual car ownership. Providing readily accessible clean EV transport removes the necessity for individual car ownership and opens up the possibility of new ways to travel. There clearly needs to be a modal shift in transport options with the emphasis on mobility and affordable access for everyone. Providing accessible clean EV vehicles through car clubs and hire companies together with enhanced public transport is a potential winning combination.

The study will look at accelerating the uptake of EVs nationally, by increasing access to electric mobility in areas under low ownership of EVs through strengthening EV infrastructure. We propose to focus on community car parks, such as Park and Ride (P&R), city centre and remote/rural car parks as they offer a range of potential recharging spaces nationally. There are between 3 and 4 million non-residential parking spaces in the UK. If converted to provide EV charging facilities, these would provide an alternative for the 80% of UK homes which do not have domestic off-street parking to permit overnight charging.

RenEnergy Solar Carport, Norwich

Our proposal will also enable the expansion of EV bus services, currently constrained by the lack of suitable rapid recharging facilities at the end of routes, such as in P&R car parks.

The study will look at how to overcome the technical and behavioural hurdles to creating EV recharging facilities in community car parks. Specifically, we will look at the use of solar-powered recharging as a means to help overcome the costs, complexity and disruption of reinforcing the electricity grid to a level capable of meeting this new demand. We will investigate the benefits and hurdles encountered by the relatively small number of public car park solar-powered charging schemes, which we call Solar Mobility Hubs (SMHs), currently in place in the UK e.g., the Milton Keynes Go Ultra Low City Scheme, the Oxford Energy Superhub, and the York Hyperhub. However, none of these schemes includes a mechanism to disseminate nationally the learning achieved and the substantial benefits.

An important aspect of the study will be to understand the social and behavioural dynamics of SMH adoption through conducting consumer surveys.

The study will contribute to:

  • Delivering net-zero through local energy projects.
  • Helping reduce the vehicle miles driven on Britain’s roads. Norfolk has seen an increase of 34.53% since 1995.
  • A meaningful contribution to reducing the 40,000 early deaths in the UK every year caused by air-borne pollutants such as diesel particulates.
  • New employment opportunities, skills and training benefits.
  • Support to businesses by, for example, taxis and fleet vehicles using SMH charging stations encouraging the switch to EVs.

The bid is seeking £0.5m for the study in which RenEnergy will be supported by Norwich Community Solar.

There have already been a number of benefits through working on the bid:

  • Demonstrating the value of a Community Benefit Society (NCS) working with the private (RenEnergy) and public (County Council) sectors to share the benefits of their respective expertise in offering relevant and effective solutions to the climate crisis.
  • Networking and making good connections with bodies such as the County Council (NCC) and the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership (NALEP).
  • NCS working together as a team and gaining valuable experience on funding bids.

It has also highlighted factors holding Norfolk back in terms of integrating community energy into a coherent plan for net zero in the county.

On Friday 18th June we heard the bid had been successful in the first stage of the appraisal process. The Solar Mobility Hub proposal has been put forward as part of Norfolk’s final submission. UK Government will now conduct a process to evaluate each of the submissions to determine the individual projects which will receive funding.

The outcome will be known in late July – fingers crossed!

Parishes, Communities and Solar Farms

On the 17th June, Community Energy South ran a webinar for over 100 attendees drawn from parish councils and community energy organisations across the South East. The webinar followed an earlier event in May, “Pathways for Community Energy in Norfolk and Suffolk” a recording of which can be viewed on the CES website. At the May event Nigel Hargreaves, Chair of NCS, gave a brief overview of what Norwich Community Solar can offer to help reduce carbon emissions, lower energy bills, enhance energy security and develop community resilience to benefit the local economy and environment. As a result of the May webinar it was clear parish councillors wanted more information on how parishes could benefit from solar farm developments in their area which resulted in CES delivering the June webinar.

Jake Burnyeat of Communities for Renewables (CfR) discussed community ownership emphasising how challenging this can be for a community to do it themselves:

  • It can take over £200k of risk investment to get to planning consent and the same again to secure construction finance.
  • It can typically take 2 years from feasibility to completion.
  • It can take a lot of volunteer input even with funding and professional support.

Some solar developers may be willing to sell a solar farm to the community but early engagement on the part of the community is strongly advised, especially if the community can support the project through the planning process when a purchase option can be agreed upfront.

Jim Hartley-Bond of Low Carbon Ltd spoke about a real step-change in community ownership of solar farms. Whilst projects can be more challenging compared to the days of FiT subsidies, the financial value to the local community can be much greater. A key observation is that a community contemplating a solar farm must be organised and ready. If working with a developer, for example, the developer will not wait around for a community to get organised. They have to be ready to negotiate and implement as soon as an opportunity arises. This is where NCS can play an important role in providing advice and assistance.

Mark Hinnells of Ricardo, and also a lecturer at the Centre for Alternative Technology, gave several examples of community solar farms. He made the point that grid connected 5MW farms supported through FiTs or ROCS (Renewables Obligation Certificates) are no longer viable after removal of the support. Mark listed the following possible options:

  • Very large 20MW to 49MW or greater to take advantage of economies of scale
  • Solar plus storage but more difficult for a community to achieve.
  • Private wire arrangement with a large local customer.
  • Utilisation of low cost, low value land e.g. owned by a council, on a reservoir, above a car park.
  • Reduced risk where a Statutory Undertaker does not have to seek planning permission under permitted development rights if on their own land. E.g. a water company reservoir.
  • A combination of the above.
Floating solar panels on a reservoir

Apart from older, subsidised schemes or private wire connected projects, most projects need economies of scale for them to be financially viable. Schemes currently under development would seem to support this view:

The webinar gave a good insight into how communities and councils can work with a wide variety of stakeholders, including solar developers, to invest in and benefit from a local solar farm. The event provided a useful overview of options, financial viability, planning considerations, and community funding. There was a noticeable absence of representatives from Norfolk at the event which suggests there is still some way to go for communities and councils in Norfolk to recognise the opportunities and advantages of developing solar farms.

A significant issue was raised by a very passionate participant regarding the whole life cycle impacts of developing renewable energy schemes and electric vehicles. He was extremely concerned we are not fully considering the overall impacts on communities from where raw materials originate. From destructive mining to unfair and potentially exploitative practices there are impacts on the environment and communities. This important issue could form the basis of a future CES webinar.

NCS is keen to support RenEnergy in an investigation into the development of prototype solar car ports made from wood. This would assuage some of the concerns, although not all, about the sustainability of resources.

Funding for Community Energy Schemes

CORE Partners
Following the previous article about solar farms, Community Owned Renewable Energy (CORE Partners) is a £40m investment programme to support solar farms in England. Typically, CORE Partners will acquire a project with the objective of selling its interest to the local community in partnership with a community energy group. The aim is to turn solar farms into community assets whilst maximising the financial, environmental and social impact within the community. CORE Partners are backed by UK social investors, the Power to Change Trust (PtC) and Big Society Capital (BSC). Their missions are aligned to targeting investment into sustainable social enterprises and local community businesses.

Rural Community Energy Fund
The Rural Community Energy Fund (RCEF) is a £10 million programme supporting rural communities in England to develop renewable energy projects providing economic and social benefits to the community.

The RCEF offers support to rural communities in 2 stages:

  • stage 1: grants of up to £40,000 for a feasibility study for a renewable energy project
  • stage 2: grants of up to £100,000 for business development and planning of feasible schemes

To register interest in a scheme, or to obtain further information, for East Anglia contact the South East Energy Hub.

Community Energy Fortnight

Community Energy

Community Energy Fortnight (CEF) is running across the UK from 14-27 June. The theme is We The Power with the purpose of inspiring people to get involved in projects, taking action around energy and to engage MPs in championing community energy to influence positive policy change in favour of community energy.

Local Electricity Bill
In the year of COP26 MPs are keen to appear “green”. Invite your MP to support the Local Electricity Bill if they haven’t pledged their support already. The Local Electricity Bill was successfully introduced into parliament on the 10th June 2020. If it passes into law it will allow consumers to purchase energy from local groups, and not just nationally licensed utilities. The ‘Right to Local Supply’ will allow communities to sell locally generated electricity directly to local households and businesses. However, the Bill has not yet become law. There is still work to do. Steve Shaw, director of Power for People who lead the coalition supporting the Bill, commented, “So far, we have brought a cross-party group of 257 MPs on board in support. We still need many more to win the campaign and to achieve this we need your help”. These are the most important actions you can take:

Norwich Community Solar – our future

We have invested a lot of time, energy and expertise in our latest funding bid and we look forward to a successful outcome. In the process we have broadened our connections and strengthened our network of contacts with local councils, businesses and potential future partners. Current government policy and the regulatory framework does not make it easy to develop viable community solar but the context is evolving and examples in this newsletter show they are possible. Initiatives such as the Local Electricity Bill could make a significant difference if, and when, enacted. We have to be ready to take advantage of the opportunities when they come along. NCS membership is healthy with our 81st member signing up last month. If you are not already a member please sign up via our website: NCS Membership.

As a Community Benefit Society we also willingly accept donations via the same page!

Integrated solar and battery storage scheme in Norfolk?
NCS is keen to work with builders and developers to carry out a feasibility study for a housing and community integrated solar and battery scheme. Let us know if you are aware of potential for such a scheme and contacts for us to follow up. Please e-mail: info@norwichcommunitysolar.com

Spread the word!
Please share this Newsletter with others and your contacts who may be interested in supporting or getting involved in community solar. The more we network, the broader our contacts and the better placed we are when opportunities arise!

Norwich Community Solar is a community benefit society (registered under the Financial Conduct Authority, number 7456). If you would like to join as a member or have any other comments and suggestions, please get in touch through our website.

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