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NCS Newsletter June 2022

Norwich Community Solar logo

 

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

 

 

A role for Norwich Community Solar?

The 2021 AGM meeting noted that NCS has yet to initiate a project, held back by unfavourable changes to UK energy policy.

The main challenge has been the withdrawal of the Feed-in Tariff (FIT) to new applicants in 2019. The FIT made solar projects economically attractive by providing an attractive guaranteed price for renewable electricity fed-in to the national grid. Without the FIT, rates of return on surplus (exported) renewable  energy from its replacement (the so-called ‘Smart Export Guarantee’) are much lower, meaning  considerably longer payback periods and greater reluctance to invest.

If all electricity generated on site is not consumed, options then are either to arrange a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) with a nearby consumer or consumers with sufficient aggregate demand, or investment in storage capacity. The former is complex, the latter further extends the payback period.

That was then. If the inadequate response to the climate emergency were not enough, since February this year the invasion of Ukraine by Russia has laid bare the failure of UK energy policy to build a resilient low carbon energy system over a period of decades. Despite progress in the deployment of renewables, we still remain dangerously exposed to hydrocarbon’s repeated market crises and other forces outside our control.

In the latest symptom of this systematic failure, current projections for the energy price cap suggest annual household energy bills of £2,800 by October.

This was the background to the 2022 AGM on 23 April, which provided an opportunity to discuss and review the decision of the 2021 AGM to allow until the end of May 2022 to find a way forward for NCS by identifying if there is a role for the Community Benefit Society, or a modified version.

What has NCS achieved since the last AGM?

NCS-lead UK Solar Mobility Hubs study

In April 2021 an opportunity arose to bid for funding through the UK Government Community Renewal Fund (CRF). This appeared a way forward for NCS with encouragement to submit a bid through Norfolk County Council who provided guidance and support.

A significant amount of work went into developing a project in close collaboration with RenEnergy of Blofield Heath. The proposed “UK Solar Mobility Hubs” study planned to offer a scalable, national framework for decarbonisation, skills transfer and rural connectivity to address the lack of public EV charging points. The proposal was to focus on community car parks, such as Park and Ride (P&R), city centre and remote/rural car parks, offering an array of potential recharging spaces nationally. It could 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 bid was submitted in June. It was not until the beginning of November that we heard we had been unsuccessful.

Whilst disappointing, the experience provided the opportunity to work together with RenEnergy on a significant bid for government funding. In the course of developing the plan we were able to demonstrate NCS’s capabilities to partner organisations and help raise the profile of NCS. We remain open to similar opportunities and are maintaining a watch for other funding possibilities.

Norwich Climate Commission

We noted in the last newsletter that applications had closed to become a volunteer Norwich Climate Commissioner. Commissioners represent the public, private, and third sectors, alongside local communities in the commission’s work to generate awareness and use of best practice to support the city’s environmental targets.

Two NCS members, Nigel Hargreaves and John Moore have become part of the newly formed Norwich Climate Commission, which has a mandate under the City Council in partnership with the Tyndall Centre at UEA as an independent advisory body to offer the city council guidance on mitigating and adapting to climate change with respect to its aim under the Norwich 2040 City Vision to shifting to clean energy by 2040 and becoming carbon neutral by 2050.

One of the first outcomes has been to comment on the Implementation Plan (IP) of the latest version of the Transport Plan (TP4 IP) put forward for consultation by Norfolk County Council, which is Norfolk’s Highways Authority. These comments were critical of the lack of detail and explanation in how Norfolk’s IP would reduce carbon emissions to meet the wider net zero target for the country set by central government – to which all regions must contribute by reducing emissions within their jurisdictions.

The Commision is also developing a workplan to show leadership on climate mitigation and adaptation actions that will offer guidance to the City Council in achieving its 2040 vision.

Solar Canopies for Schools

As also reported in our October 2021 newsletter, NCS member John Moore has developed a proposal aimed at schools for the use of solar canopies, typically over car parks and play areas.

Solar canopies for schoolsInitial assessment indicates that there should be a good number of schools that could “host” a solar canopy and use the electricity generated. The next step is to test-market the concept on a few Education Trusts to see if there is appetite for the offer. This requires some work to ensure that we approach the Trusts with a well developed proposal with clear illustrations of the concept.

Tom Feary at Studio 163 has kindly provided some visualisations and the next step is to develop the proposal to approach Trusts. Unfortunately this has been slow in progressing due to other time commitments. Solar canopies for schools

Any help – particularly where you have contacts in any of Norfolk’s education trusts – would be gratefully received. Please contact us using our NCS email address.

New Mills Yard hydropower scheme

New Mills Yard in central Norwich contains a former pumping house built over the River Wensum. It potentially offers an ideal location for a hydropower generation project and discussions with Norwich City Council continue to explore ways to take advantage of this promising resource. Negotiations have been slow moving due to the number of stakeholders responsible for the site requiring alignment – including the Environment Agency (weir and river water level management), NMY leaseholder and city council (landlord).

Nesw Mills Yard
New Mills Yard, Norwich

NCS have put forward a vision for use of a novel river turbine under development by a local company that could potentially supply a constant source of clean energy to a nearby housing development using a private wire. However, in order to move this project forward we have called on the council to convene the necessary parties to start moving the project forward.

Food Innovation Centre

NCS was consulted by environmental consultancy Pure Leapfrog with contracting and interior fit-out group Willmott Dixon about developing a community share offer to fund installation of solar panels on the roof of the FIC.  However, the timeline proved too tight among a number of other issues.

This highlighted the growing interest in exploiting mutually beneficial opportunities from collaboration between commercial developers and community energy groups. However our experience showed how important it is for the parties to come together at the project planning stage in order for the community energy group to have sufficient ownership and time to mobilise successfully behind the technical solution.

Recent research sponsored by central government reflects how local energy solutions can save money and create benefits for local communities if they are engaged.

Accelerating Net Zero Delivery

Net zero localities: ambition & value in UK local authority investment

BEIS Community Energy Contact Group

The Department of Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) is responsible for UK energy policy. NCS Chair Nigel Hargreaves has become a member of the Community Energy Contact Group with other community energy representatives.  Its remit is to discuss issues and policy/programme areas which impact the community energy sector. The CECG is a strategic and collaborative forum and will focus on strategic, cross-cutting issues. The CECG has no formal decision-making powers.

The key objective of the Community Energy Contact Group (CECG) will be to provide a single, dedicated forum for community energy groups (and supporting organisations) to engage and collaborate with the government.   Officials from within BEIS and across Whitehall will be invited when the group is scheduled to discuss their policy/programme area and if they want to test ideas at the early stages of policy development. Other people (eg. from local government) may be invited to attend for specific items.

Nigel has proposed that the planned review of the Infrastructure Act, 2015 takes place to implement measures that would enable community investment in large commercial renewable energy schemes to be mandated, possibly as part of the powers by local authorities to offer planning permission. The aim would be to offer local people the chance of buying shares and co-owning large schemes that currently utilise our natural resources without any significant financial benefit to the local community. It could follow the model of community co-ownership that has been standard practice in Denmark since it started its wind energy revolution more than a decade ago.

Norfolk Local Councils 2022 Conference for Clerks and Councillors

Nigel Hargreaves was invited to present to the Norfolk Local Councils 2022 Conference for Clerks and Councillors via the Norfolk Chamber of Commerce Business Climate Leaders initiative.

This was mainly aimed at reporting on potential climate change mitigation and adaptation initiatives that could be implemented at the grassroots level, including forming community owned energy projects.

Nigel highlighted the risks posed by a rapidly changing climate from a global to local perspective and described several options local organisations have to increase resilience. In energy terms these begin with avoiding the use of energy, energy conservation, energy efficiency and local generation. Measures span improving on organisation approach to insulation as well as self generation and consumption of electricity where viable. The clerks and councillors shared various projects they would like to see happen but many agreed that lack of funding and resources present barriers to local communities.

The future of NCS

Against this backdrop of continuing interest and activity, but no concrete projects, what do we want NCS to be and how do we achieve that?

The AGM discussed exactly this, with the following key points emerging:

  • There is no other active community energy organisation in Norfolk. Given the radical change in energy prices resulting from the invasion of Ukraine and the likely resulting potential for future renewable energy projects it was felt NCS should maintain a presence to be available to work with local councils and other partners to promote community energy.
  • We recognise local councils often lack capacity to realise projects. There are also procurement barriers where community groups do not feature in a procurement framework and hence do not qualify to tender. A role we have, therefore, is to build confidence and familiarise local authorities with our capabilities through networking and developing a professional relationship.
  • Getting a first project off the ground as a model of what can be achieved is still essential. This may not be with a local authority but a private company that demonstrates the community energy approach. However, we are reopening negotiations with Norwich City Council on the use of their Riverside Leisure centre roof to generate energy for the facility – a project we first proposed in 2018.
  • NCS also has a role to help create carbon literacy and raise awareness so that we can all speak the same language. Peter Ellington talked about his work with accountants on raising awareness of their role in tackling the climate crisis in the decisions they make. There is self-interest in approaching business decisions from a “climate angle” and this can ultimately lead to investing in community energy projects. The scope of NCS can, therefore, be quite broad to be able to then focus on community energy from a variety of different perspectives taking an advocacy, educational, and facilitation role.
  • We are still seeking support from our members to step forward to help initiate projects with the expert help existing within our community benefit society. With an energy and climate crisis unfolding around us, we believe there has never been a better time to mobilise community energy in Norwich and Norfolk!

Election of Directors and Chair

Finally, the Rules of Norwich Community Solar, require the directors who have been longest in office since their last election to retire, but they are eligible for re-election.

Consequently, Nigel Hargreaves and Tom Abbott stepped down as directors, with Nigel re-elected as Chair and Tom not putting himself forward for re-election as he has moved away from Norwich.

Community Energy Fortnight 2022

The annual national fortnight of events promoting community energy is about to begin! It will run from 11th-24th June. Events are hosted by community energy organisations and electricity network owners from around the country. This year there is a focus on advice and training in fuel poverty management, energy efficiency as well as stories about how successful energy generation projects have been created by grassroots groups. For more information and timing of in-person and online events, please visit the Community Energy Fortnight webpage.

News

NCS Newsletter October 2021

Norwich Community Solar logo

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

Sun-days Schools – solar canopies for local schools

We are developing an innovative offer to local schools. Most primary schools need to provide shaded space in the playgrounds. By using the same systems developed for car parks, we can provide shade/shelter for outdoor activities and provide zero carbon electricity to the school. Schools also have car parking space of course, that takes up a lot of space but generates little value. We can also offer to cover these with solar panels, providing more zero carbon electricity and also charge points for electric vehicles. This will extend the offer to secondary schools and colleges.

The initiative builds on the growing success of PV systems built over commercial and municipal car parks. It is an elegant solution to help reduce schools’ energy bills, with the added benefit of providing shade, and without the complications of rooftop installations. A car-canopy approach also avoids difficult choices over sports fields or potential future developments by leaving existing land intact.

Our aim is to develop a standardised modular package to keep costs down that is applicable to all school sizes. It will boost their resilience to energy prices and climate change while demonstrating a valuable learning opportunity to students.

If you have any insights that could help, NCS member John Moore is leading on this project, please contact him at john.moore@nzcservices.com. 

Solar canopies

Solar for Schools Bonds

If you want to support solar energy in schools, the Solar for Schools bond offer is currently open, looking to raise £2 million for conventional roof-based installations. To date, Solar for Schools says its installations have generated 19,228 MWh of solar electricity, enough to drive an electric car around the world 2,399 times and avoid 7,802 tonnes of CO2.

Solar for Schools also works with pupils on educational programmes, giving them invaluable insights into the future of renewable energy generation. Norwich Community Solar has not investigated these claims and is not offering advice on the advisability of this investment.

NOW and NEXT webinar

On 7th October, Community Energy England and the Next Generation programme hosted an all-day webinar covering every aspect of community energy practice today with some brilliant speakers. It looked at a wide variety of local community energy projects, ranging from independently funded car charging facilities in villages and towns of the North West, to working with developers to implement a microgrid in a new housing development near Totnes.

The Brighton Energy Coop presented the development of a ‘credibility ladder’ that enabled their community energy (CE) group to get involved in more complex and high profile projects. Its derisking by ‘doing and delivering’ model is one way to attract Local Authorities to work with  local CE groups. Brighton Energy Coop has now found that subsidy-free PV is viable at 9.5p/kWh of energy sales for arrays in the order of 200-250kW installations.

A full recording of the event can be found on YouTube here and copies of the event slides are on YouTube here.

Community Energy

With a looming gas crisis and COP26 putting energy firmly in the spotlight, there is a growing urgency for alternative models of power generation. That’s one reason we are all involved in community energy: it potentially offers a faster route to decarbonization – alongside all the advantages of community engagement – if the Government would get behind it and provide a supportive legislative environment.

In “Will community energy finally get its moment in the sun?”, Coop News looks at the work of Community Energy England (CEE), which is lobbying hard for change.And you can check out the reasons why CE represents a faster route to Net Zero by consulting the CEE 2030 Vision and the current State of the Sector report.

If you would like to learn more about Community Energy in the UK, there are two new detailed reports available. The first, Enabling Community Energy in the North-East of England, looks to understand the structure, mechanisms, models and support that would enable the successful development and delivery of community energy projects in the area covered by the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (North East LEP).

The second, Cities and Community Energy, comes from Community Energy London and looks at the broader issue of urban community energy.

COP26

Community Energy England (see Community Energy, above) is also working closely with the UK government on its preparations for the COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow (31 October to 12 November).

CEE is looking for 25 community energy showcases from across the regions and will be attending COP26 to show how community energy is essential to achieving net-zero on UK (and international) policymakers. It hopes to get a community energy event in Glasgow, photo opportunities and lots of publicity and it is convening a community energy bloc on the climate march in Glasgow on 6 November. If you’re there, or near, join in with your banners.

Find out more about what CEE is doing in preparation for COP26 and, if you would like to engage with CEE’s COP26 activities, contact Henry, the COP26 Community Energy Mobiliser: h.bettley@communityenergyengland.org

Norwich Science Festival 2021

Norwich Science Festival 2021 returns on Saturday, 23 October and runs to the following Saturday, 30 October, by when there will have been 198 events across the city.

The festival bills itself as “a celebration of all things science” for all ages and all levels of knowledge. It’s a chance to explore the wonders of the universe, meet the scientists whose research has changed our world and debate some big questions with some big-thinkers.

One highlight from the 47 climate change and sustainability events: on the opening day, 23rd October, “A Bold Vision of Hope for a Sustainable Future” has a panel that includes Jonathan Porritt (4pm – 5.30pm: Blake Studio, Norwich School).

Norwich Climate Commission

Applications are now closed to become a Norwich Climate Commissioner. The volunteer commissioners will represent the public, private, and third sectors, alongside local communities. The commission itself is intended to help generate awareness and use of best practice to support the city’s environmental targets and contribute to the Norwich 2040 City Vision Covid Recovery Group and other key organisations, groups, networks and communities across the area.

Such initiatives aren’t new in Norwich. A similar forum called the Norwich Independent Commission on Climate Change was convened in 2010 and made very good recommendations – although, sadly, there seems to be little evidence of its advice being implemented.

Power Partners – a community investment fund from UK Power Networks

UK Power Networks – the company that owns and maintains electricity infrastructure in our region – has launched a fifth round of its Power Partners initiative, open to applications until October 25.

Not-for-profit organisations and community groups are invited to apply for sums of between £2,000 and £20,000 for initiatives that combat fuel poverty, or support people in vulnerable circumstances by increasing their energy resilience. For further information.

Big Solar Co-op

Looking for more info on how to get community energy projects off the ground? If you want to help make new subsidy-free solar happen in your area – or support others to achieve this goal – Big Solar Co-op’s free training events are for you.  You can see listings of events, sign up to be notified about forthcoming events, or catch up with webinar recordings. Recent topics include: Finding community solar sites and Approaching host sites.

Upcoming events:

  • Open discussion about How To Best Support Vulnerable Clients In The Current Energy Costs Crisis, online 28 Oct
  • Innovation Lab webinar with Bath & West Community Energy, online 11 November

Links & reports:

Other CEE Links:

  • You can find information about the RCEF and other sources of funding for the sector here.
  • Community energy share offers, including Charge My Street, Bath & West CE, and Carbon Co-op’s People Powered Retrofit.
  • COP26 resources/newsletters and CEE’s policy & advocacy activity.

Norwich Community Solar – our future

In the process of investing our time and energies in recent funding bids 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. We have to be ready to take advantage of the opportunities when they come along. NCS membership is healthy with now 89 members. 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 · Church Road · Cantley · Norwich, NR13 3SN · United Kingdom

News

NCS Newsletter June 2021

Norwich Community Solar logo

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.

News

Local leadership needed to transform UK energy

The independent and not-for-profit energy think tank Regen has reinforced the case for community energy initiatives, such as Norwich Community Solar. In a recent report it warns that without “active engagement” of the people and organisations living and working in the UK’s nations, cities and regions, the net zero target will not be reached.

Local leadership to transform our energy system states that, without national government action, local government will not be able to reach the full potential of what it can do on energy. With the pandemic having wiped out budgets and stealing resources that could have been invested in climate and energy this year, local authorities will have to use all their “creativity and innovation” to create income streams and share resources to unlock energy projects.

It sets out a series of recommendations for government to ensure that localities are able to drive action to transform the UK’s energy system and identified 10 “top asks”, including a new statutory duty for local authorities on net zero energy, with appropriate funding, resources and reporting to deliver against it, to release local leadership across the country.

It also calls for local authorities’ role in energy network planning and investment to be unlocked, suggesting the establishment of a formal governance role for UK regions as a way to do this; for guidance to be issued on how to set up new Power Purchase Agreements to help local authorities support community energy projects; and for local government to be handed control of retrofit funding, enabling local rollout of energy efficiency measures. Elsewhere, it recommends the ambition of the Future Homes Standard should be raised to be net zero compliant, with local authorities given the freedom to be more ambitious than the national decarbonisation timetable in setting their local plan policies for new homes and commercial developments.

Regen

News

Online tool aims to boost community energy

Via New Anglia Energy

SP Energy Networks has unveiled a free-to-use platform with the aim of helping communities across the UK realise their net zero emissions ambitions.

It has launched its Zero Carbon Communities hub, an open source tool which will act as a free, centralised source of information to bring together shared knowledge of local community energy projects. Created with support from Community Energy Scotland, Dumfries and Galloway College, and the Energy Skills Partnership, it is part of efforts to boost investment in the growth of the community energy sector and wider economy.

The hub is intended for community groups, such as NCS, that are planning and developing renewable energy projects, helping them to decide on technology, location, scale, governance and management processes. It will offer guidance and signposting of how to approach each area to overcome potential problems at an early stage and shorten project lead times.

As part of the tool’s launch, it was good to hear Guy Jefferson, SP Energy Networks Customer Service Director, acknowledging the important role of community energy. “Community energy projects have the potential to transform the UK’s energy sector”, he said, “with the introduction of renewable technology specific to the needs of the local area. Our new Zero Carbon Communities tool will help organisations through the planning and development process, allowing them to overcome potential pitfalls and get the right investment in place quicker than ever before. Bespoke local energy solutions are required if the UK is going to meet its net zero emissions targets.”

SP Energy Networks

News

Government told to give local energy multi-billion-pound backing

Via New Anglia Energy

UK100, a network of UK local authorities focused on climate and clean energy policy, and Siemens UK have called on the government to pledge £5bn toward local energy in its upcoming stimulus package, stating it could unlock £100bn worth of schemes.

On 30 June, the pair published a summary of a forthcoming report into investment in local energy projects. Having analysed five regional energy hubs set up by the government in 2018, it found a pipeline of 183 projects valued at £850mn, though 90% are at an early stage of development and relatively small scale. Multi-billion-pound government support would grow the current pipeline more than 100 times, to reach that £100bn figure.

Broken down, it includes £40bn for energy efficiency, £30bn for low carbon heating, £10bn for renewables, £10bn for smart energy systems and £10bn for low emissions transport.

The most effective way of delivering government support would be through establishing a Net Zero Development Bank, the report said. Working in partnership with local authorities, the Bank would be a centre for excellence for developing, procuring and delivering net zero project investment, scale up investment opportunities to make them more attractive to institutional investors, and engage with regulators and central government to ensure necessary support for market development.

Carl Ennis, UK CEO of Siemens, said: “There is an urgent need to scale up local, sustainable, energy if the UK is to have any chance of meeting net zero by 2050. This requires a collective national effort with government, business and the public all playing our part. Local energy should be at the heart of the National Infrastructure Strategy creating a more consistent policy landscape that will give investors the confidence to invest earlier.”

News

Community Energy Fortnight highlights need for a new community energy strategy

Community Energy Fortnight began last Monday (15 June 2020), structured this time around the theme of Building Strength and Resilience. Support activities have already kicked off with the launch of the State of the Sector report for 2020 and a new 2030 Vision last Friday by Community Energy England (CEE) and Community Energy Wales (CEW).  

In this article, Norwich Solar Community Board Member Nigel Cornwall identifies some of the main headlines impacting community energy from the past 12 months or so, searching for positives, and looks ahead to what is likely to prove another very difficult year. He sets out the case for a coherent new strategysupported by targeted measures to stabilise the sector, allowing it to make up lost ground and an appropriate, potentially significant, contribution to support delivery of net zero

In the doldrums 

PV installers in Brixton, London
PV installers in Brixton, London
Community Energy - the state of the sector 2020
Community Energy - the state of the sector 2020

The community energy sector has struggled to reach critical mass in England and Wales and has experienced turbulent times of late. Sure, there have been some positives, such as an uptick over the last two years in local heat and transport projects, and good work has been initiated around a handful of pilot smart local energy system demonstratorsSome local groups including councils are beginning to test the new waters of energy storage and flexibility trading.  

But these positive steps are from a very, very low base, and the general tenor in the sector continues to be one of increasing uncertainty. The more optimistic days of 2014-15 when BEIS’ predecessor DECC produced its first and only Community Energy Strategy1 and First Year Update2 seem long gone. This is not just because of the loss of subsidy for any generation below 5MW with the close out of the Feed-iTariff (FiTregime in March 2019. There has also been systematic withdrawal of virtually all avoided cost benefits and imposition of higher VAT rates on PV systems. Crucially, there is now no minimum price guarantee or a commitment to purchase beyond the very short-term, and most new projects cannot cover their costs. Energy suppliers, who should be exploring niche markets, have tended to steer well clear of local supply offerings.  

The outlook was already poor and deteriorating before the pandemic. Indeed, the previous State of the Sector report from Community Energy England reflected the worst year on record with less than 8MW of new generation capacity installed in 2018Community projects represented less than a quarter of build the previous year and less than a tenth of all FiT accreditations in an already sluggish market. As a result, the community energy sector has been able to achieve only 10% of the potential build out envisaged in 2014’s strategy3. 

This time last year we were acclimatising to a world without FiTs for new projects, although it has taken a while for the shape of the new Smart Export Guarantee (SEG) to emerge with implementation from 1 January 2020. BEIS has positioned this as a significant intervention, which it isn’tAnd despite adoption of the net zero target, there has been no communications strategy from the centre to support community involvement. Compare this with the tens of millions being spent on adoption of smart meters and next day switching. An overseas observer (or even one from Scotland, where policy support has been much more consistent) would be perplexed by what must look like deliberate policy neglect.  

The latest 2020 State of the Sector survey covers 2019 and reflects these real challenges and changes. Highlights are shown in the figure opposite. While it shows almost twice the 2018 level of new projects at over 15MW achieving total capacity of 265MWthe large majority are an over-hang from the FiT regime as pre-accredited projects came to fruition or have benefited from the extended wind-down period for certain types of schemes.  

Since then, of course, we have seen the onset of COVID-19and power prices have tumbled. The only real positive looking ahead seems to be the emergence of a wide-ranging debate on the merits of a green recovery. Within this there is also discussion around Building Back Better, including supporting local resilience and engagement with communities as insurance against existential uncertainties, so there is something to build on 

Remarkably given the huge setbacks, we embark on this new daunting challenge with the appetite and enthusiasm of community groups undiminished.  

Having it both ways

Politicians and regulators continue to talk up the merits of community energy and local markets and their potential role in the transition to smart, flexible energy systemWe have seen the development of local industrial strategies and energy plans at the regional level through the Local Enterprise Partnerships and the establishment of a new breed of local energy hubs 

But development of local energy strategies and action plans habeen scatter-shot and deterred by electricity industry complexity and fragmentationAlthough the majority of councils have now declared climate emergencies, these do not generally connect through to stimulus packages to support lowcarbon technologies and demand-side programmesAt the same time funding streams have dried up with little confirmed as yet to replace EU monies around regional development.  What activity there is seems largely to bypass community energy groups. 

Wawait some sign or positive move from BEIS that allows us to better understand how local projects can play their part in the delivery of the net zero target. There has been a consultation on clean heat, which has just closed but stakeholder feedback has not been positiveFurthermore, as a result of the pandemic, government initiatives such as the longpromised energy white paper and various implementing strategies flagged by the Clean Growth Strategy have been consistently pushed back.  

A rapidly shifting market

The SEG has only been live for less than six months and is to be subject to reviewBut it is not a guarantee as suppliers can set whatever purchase rate they choose for exports. An excellent analysis of the impact on scheme economics was published by Tim Braunholtz-Speight et al from Manchester and Strathclyde Universities in February.4 They estimated that over 90% of schemes based on a sample of 145 projects were in surplus under the FiT regime, but this figure fell to only 20% without it. The comparison is even more unfavourable as it does not take into account the long-term price guarantee that came with FiT accreditation, which also plays a significant role in de-risking projects and attracting finance. 

So far, there are 15 suppliers that must offer the SEG, but only four offering rates at 4p/kWh or more. Interestingly one supplier, Social Energy, is offering terms voluntarily and tops the table at 5.6p/kWh, a shade off the legacy FiT export rate. But this type of activity is very much an outlier in a commercial market-place where electricity is mainly traded at a national level with little regional differentiation.  

Since the withdrawal of FiT subsidies, the real value of on-site generation remains from being able to consume the power onsite. But to be viable in the new environment an investor must do one of two things. First it can undersize an array, which in a world of net zero is perverse. Alternatively, it can install batteries, although the storage market is in its infancy and energy suppliers to date have been slow to include these in offerings because of uncertainty around the economics and the market rules. 

The value of exported energy to the system is also changingbut that is likely to further undermine the commercial value of local purchases to the supplier. The FiT export price, which is not a true energy cost but a subsidy paid by consumers, was already looking generous a year ago compared with the average price of traded electricity, which has fallen 20% over the past 12 monthsAnd system “spill” prices have also fallen dramatically over the intervening period with increasing competition to stay on the system and the current excess of generation over low demand for sustained periods 

So it is possible that SEG prices offered by suppliers, which anyway tend to be low, could be further reduced reflecting the avoided cost of buying from a system that is typically long. Perversely a real contributor of this price collapse are the subsidies paid to FiT schemes and other legacy renewable energy schemes that allow operators to offer low (or even negative) prices so they can continue to run and claim subsidy payments. 

No one could have foreseen this level of turbulence in the market when FiTs were withdrawn with no commercial safety net introduced to replace it. Its impact on the track of wholesale prices, and how this is further undermining community energy, was simply not factored into the policy process.  

Against this background, many generation installers have already scaled back or gone out of business. Those that remain have refocused on the larger, business market where consumption levels as a proportion of production tend to be much higher and installation accounts for a lower share of total costs. But even here, the market changes are impacting on incentives to invest in self-generation and demand-side prog

Have we reached the bottom?

The answer to this question is “probably yes”.  

It is hard to see wholesale prices falling further on a sustained basis, especially with a phased return to work. We also know that non-energy costs will steadily rise over the coming years. There will be some indication of further rises when the latest costs of legacy FiT costs that suppliers must pay are invoiced in July, which will reflect record sunshine levels, clear skies and a smaller charging base. The Contract for Differences (CfD) fund will also be short given the need to fund a bigger gap between contract strike prices and realised wholesale prices during the lockdown. And, the costs of balancing the system are showing sustained increases by well in excess of £100mn a month. So, the avoided costs of investment in generation behind the meter all other things being equal are set to increase again implying it is the best business case for community energy to offer its customers. 

Equipment costs continue to fall, but what the impact of COVID-19 is on the supply chain and installation costs into the medium term is anyone’s guess. 

Have we reached the bottom?
Have we reached the bottom?

Another positive factor is the increased availability and lower costs of citizen finance. New innovative funding structures are emerging (for instanceWest Berkshire Community Bond scheme with Abundance Investment) and these enjoy a positive cost differential (perhaps upward of 1-2 percentage points) over traditional lending.  

It is also evident that some communities are diversifying away from pure power generation models as they seek new sources of value and different stakeholder benefits. This means some are tending to gravitate further down the supply chain, in-so-doing delivering more complex service-oriented offerings beyond the customers meter. These include “pay as you save” (Brighton and Hove Energy Services Company), electrical storage along with EV charging and smart heating (Gwent Energy) and load shifting (clearly incentivised by the Agile tariff of Octopus).  

Another discernible trend is a migration into alternative energy sectors, such as heat from biomass, and we have already noted the move into EV charging by some community groups. Over the longer term this diversification can only increase the resilience of schemes, though delivery will undoubtedly be more complex. But for now we remain a long way from demonstrating that such projects are viable under today’s rulebook, and local government entities enabled by more supportive policy frameworks need to find a way of joining up and tailoring energy (generation, storage and demand-side), heat and transport schemes for their communities. 

The scale of the task to reach the 2030 Vision is daunting. But, given the appropriate policy and financial support, CEE and CEW believe the sector could become 12 to 20 times larger by 2030. Community energy could contribute over 5GW of capacity, power 2.2mn homes, support 8700 jobs, save 2.5mn tonnes of CO2 emissions and add over £1.8bn to the economy each year. But critically there is as yet no consensus on what measures are required to enable the vision to become reality. 

What needs to be done?

We need to revive urgently the concept of a community energy strategy, updated for today’s market conditions and primed to optimising its contribution to delivery of net zero. This needs to establish an enabling framework that can support disparate local actions and establish staging posts to measure progress to an agreed 2030 target. This strategy needs to link up and be consistent with local energy strategies and plans established by LEPs supported by local stakeholder bodies, as well as SCATTER cities carbon budgetsSome of the options that need to be considered are set out below.  

The first is for government to scope and deliver a single communication and engagement plan aligned with the strategy but highlighting the scope for individual and community action with regard to both production of energy and its consumption. This needs to focus on the behavioural changes needed, and the need for much more extensive local participation 

The Committee on Climate Change acknowledged this imperative and the linkage with regional stakeholders back in 2018 in its advice to government on net zero,sup>5: clear leadership is needed right across government, with delivery in partnership with businesses and communities. Emissions reduction cannot be left to the energy and environment departments or to the Treasury. It continues: Some of the difficult decisions that will be required […] will only be possible if people are engaged in a societal effort to reach net zero emissions and understand the choices and constraints.” This engagement must be achieved as a collaborative, participative endeavour which needs much more than engagement. It needs citizens to consent and want to participate.  

Community Energy England (and the sibling groups in Wales and Scotland) would provide a natural partner to work with local groups and stakeholders. 

The second is to fix the SEGIt is critical that the reviere-examines key elements of the mechanism and options for reform against the backdrop of today’s market, including: 

  • some form of price stabilisation mechanism, perhaps a price floor, and a longerterm guarantee of purchase to de-risk community investment models in renewables, and 
  • a requirement on suppliers to offer a market-related, time differentiated tariff (which might be tied to average spill prices). 

Third public sector bodies should be encouraged to purchase community energy on long-term contracts. These might also reflect the contribution such arrangements make to delivery of CO2 reductions. There also needs to be proactive consideration of how local partnerships more generally can be facilitated. Mandating local authorities and other public agencies to deliver social, environmental and economic benefits possibly as part of a just transition could provide a major incentive for them to partner with community organisations. 

Where the Local Electricity Bill fits in all this is presently hard to determine given the absence of detail provided by its proponents. The Bill was initially introduced last year as a Private Members Bill but “fell” with the December 2019 General Election. It has been reinforced under a Ten-Minute Private Members Motion and was presented to Parliament last week. 

In principle a right to local supply could be an important mechanism in unlocking community energy. But what we need to see here is a clear structure that reassures consumers more generally that this is not simply a device for exempting costs that would be pushed onto other bill payers. Perhaps development of some form of short-haul tariff might help, as would proper accounting for thermal loss reduction. Also, further development of local markets for flexibility and incentivisation for load shifting could be used to incentivise smarter, local energy usage.  

This is a complex area, and one that requires urgent, focussed attention from BEIS and Ofgem.  

A fourth option is to level the playing field with commercial technology developersBEIS is currently consulting on proposed amendments to the CfD scheme. Formally this is a follow-up to the five-year review mandated in the enabling legislation, with changes to be implemented in the fourth allocation round due in 2021. The proposals are welcome in several respects, not least because they contemplate reintroduction of CfD support to onshore renewables, but not below 5MW. 

Clearly this threshold is arbitrary and discriminates against community energy. As part of the changes for this round, BEIS should: 

  • specify a minimum level of community ownership as a condition of participation in the CfD auction process, and 
  • pre-allocate a specified share of the “pot 1” monies in each allocation round to sub-5MW projects (preferred) or alternatively permitting aggregation of separate projects into a regional portfolio that exceeds the current participation threshold and which would have its own administrative strike price. 

Not all these levers need to be pulled, but we do need an objective assessment of these and other available measures so that there can be sensible modelling of what community energy targets should be adopted on the road to net zero, along with the associated costs and benefits. 

Tough but achievable

As we are seeing in Europe, there is no one solution to the advancement of community energy, and solutions need to address regulatory and governance circumstances found on the ground. It is clear that we can do significantly better in engaging customers and boosting innovative local supply. This should be seen as an important strand in Building Back Better as we move forward from the pandemic.    

If community energy is to achieve its potential and support the recovery and delivery of net zero, there needs to be a shift in how policymakers and regulators see community energy, and this must start with active recognition of the wide-ranging benefits low-carbon schemes can bring to local households and businesses.  It is essential that we head towards the delayed COP26 conference in late 2021 with a clear goal of seeking consensus on the strategy for community energy and what is expected of it. There needs to be explicit consideration in the Energy White Paper or alongside it. If we can do this, a rebalancing of local energy systems and achievement of the 2030 Vision may well still be possible. 

Notes

1 https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/275163/20140126Community_Energy_Strategy.pdf

2 https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/414446/CESU_FINAL.pdf

3 The 2020 State of the Sector report shows 265MW of generation compared with the 2014 strategy document that targeted up to 3GW.

4 https://www.nature.com/articles/s41560-020-0556-2?draft=marketing

5 https://www.theccc.org.uk/2019/06/11/response-to-government-plan-to-legislate-for-net-zero-emissions-target/

News

A solar power journey from a non-technical perspective!

Two NCS members describe how they selected a domestic Solar System for their new home that was then installed in March 2020. 

Some pointers and lessons learned

  • Despite the end of the Feed-in Tariff and the low export rates available with the Smart Export Guarantee, we still estimate an annual return on investment of 3% (5% if you exclude the optional EV charger and Tesla battery) – well above current cash savings rates.
  • The latest systems now function on East- and West-facing roofs and a South-facing roof is not a critical requirement.
  • New monocrystalline panels are expensive but they are more efficient and many people find them more aesthetically pleasing.
  • UK Power Networks has to approve your proposal for micro generation and often limits how much you can export to the grid.
South and east facing panels

Background

Having purchased a new home in Norfolk in late 2019 with a large South-facing roof plus East- and West-facing pitches, we looked into buying solar PV. We invited two local companies to survey the property and provide quotes. Having moved from a small mid-terrace in Norwich with low energy requirements to a larger detached property near the coast, we had no data on our annual energy consumption. Our request was to maximise the use of our roof space, generate as much as possible and to include the option of heating the existing Heatrae Sadia hot water tank by bypassing the gas boiler. We needed enough power to charge our Nissan Leaf EV as well. 

South facing panels plus one west facing

Initial research and quotes

We discovered that the technology had advanced since we last looked at options in 2013. At that time, we were informed that having an East-West facing roof would minimise the efficiency of PV panels. Any shade on one panel would reduce the power generated from all. 

In January 2020, we found out about new inverter technology which makes it possible to have PV panels on East- and West- as well as South-facing roof spaces to maximise the power produced. The shady panels are switched off while those in the light carry on generating at maximum output. So, each panel produces the maximum energy and power losses are eliminated.  

We were told that the colder sunnier days we get on the East coast are more productive than in hotter temperatures enjoyed in the South of England. PV panels are, ironically, less productive in very hot climates. We knew that the Feed-In-Tariff (FiT) was no longer an option but were not aware that micro-generators still get paid for any excess exported to the grid thanks to the Smart Export Guarantee (SEG). Then we discovered that, although the SEG became law in January 2020, only the big energy providers are being forced to pay for exported energy. We were using Good Energy (the original campaigners for FiT back in the day), and they had not got around to complying to the SEG. Changing providers during the pandemic has meant that we cannot get a smart meter installed and our excess is going back into the grid for no return. On the other hand, working from home during the pandemic means we are using a lot more of our solar electricity during the day than we would otherwise. 

It took nearly two months to get a quote from one company (indicating that they were too busy to prioritise our small project) and a single day to get an initial quote from the second; suggesting that they were keen! We used their recommended system and initial quote to inform further research. We looked at alternative manufacturers, more powerful panels, differing warranty periods and reviews. We realised that the initial quote was based on the assumption that we wanted to install panels as a financial investment rather than prioritising environmental returns. 

The initial quote was for a 7.5KWp system using 25 x JA Solar panels which were polycrystalline. We finally opted for a 9.75 KWp system (to maximise winter generation) using 25 x Sunpower 390 panels which were monocrystalline. We researched the differences between monocrystalline and polycrystalline panels. Monocrystalline panels are expensive, but they are aesthetically more pleasing (an opinion) and more efficient (a fact). Sunpower 390 panels also came with a longer extended warranty than the JA Solar panels. There are many reviews on the internet that can be found with a quick search on Ecosia or Google. This is a quote from one: “Monocrystalline panels have a long lifespan. Most solar panel manufacturers put a 25-year warranty on their monocrystalline solar panels. Because both types of crystalline solar panels are made from crystalline silicon, a stable material, it is very likely that these solar panels will last much longer than their 25-year warranty life.”  

We had lengthy discussions with our installer (who has been in the business since 2008) before making the final decision. We consulted our neighbours who suggested that the large wood pigeon population would necessitate the installation of bird guards. 

We also decided to install an EV charger for our Nissan Leaf, factoring in a government grant of £500. It is vital to use an installer approved by the UK Government OLEV (Office for Low Emission Vehicles) scheme to obtain this grant. 

Installation

We opted for the following package:  

  • 9.75KWp system using 25 x Sunpower 390 panels
  • Tesla Powerwall 13.5KWp battery for storage of unused energy  
  • SolarEdge SE10K inverter
  • I boost power diverter (for the hot water tank)
  • EO smart home EV charger 
  • Bird guards 

Early data March 23rd – June 5th 2020

System commissioned: 23/3/2020

Today’s date: 5/6/2020

System production to date:           2.8 MWh

CO2 Emission Saved to date:       714.99 kg

Dark cold rainy day 5/06/2020: 27.38kWh

Full sunshiny day 31/05/2020       63.44 kWh 

Comparative data illustrating spring 2020 weather variances: 

31/03/2020:                                      45.27 kWh

25/04/2020:                                      39.62kWh

30/04/2020:                                      18.16 kWh

Estimated financial and CO2 savings: (yet to be verified – we think it may be better than this) 

Size of PV System: 9.75 kWp

Annual Generation: kWh CO2 Emissions Avoided: 3,111.5136 kg (actual to date is 714.99 kg for 71 days)

Export = £ 0.0500 per kWh

Money saved by Diverter (avoiding gas water heating) = £150

Money earned from Export 20% of income = £144

Electricity bill savings 59% of income = £431

Total Year 1 benefit = £724

Investment for installed system = £14,700 (£23,600 with the EV charger and Tesla storage)

ANNUAL TOTAL RETURN ON INVESTMENT = 3% on complete system (5% excluding EV charger and Tesla storage).

Installer: Green Home Energy Solutions based in Upton, Norfolk – Excellent customer service, fuss-free installation. 

Other things you need to know

UK Power Networks has to approve your proposal for micro generation and often limits how much you can export to the grid (unless you pay for a network upgrade in your area – I was told this was quite expensive but cannot find out exactly how much) We were limited to 3.68 kWh – but in the height of summer on sunny days we are exporting up to 30 kWh per day after filling the Tesla Powerwall.

Going forward

On Nigel Hargreave’s advice, we looked into V2G (Vehicle to Grid). But found that our system was considered too large to be put forward for trials with Ovo Energy. They were collaborating with Nissan Leaf (our car model).  

We will keep an eye on all the different trials going on where energy providers pay the customer to import or export electricity to or from your battery during peaks and troughs in the supply. See footnote 2 on “demand side response (DSR)”. 

What is needed now is a concerted programme from UK Power Networks and the other regional electricity distributors to update the grid to accept more microgeneration and therefore reduce the national reliance on fossil fuels or nuclear energy.

The Tesla and the SolarEdge apps make for compulsive viewing – we enjoy looking at how much we are producing, consuming, storing and exporting at any one time! 

We are also keeping an eye on how domestic wind power technology develops to cover the drop in PV energy production during the winter months when the days are shorter. To date, we have not found any wind turbines that are suitable for domestic microgeneration. They need consistent wind power and direction.  

Footnotes

1. https://www.solarreviews.com/blog/pros-and-cons-of-monocrystalline-vs-polycrystalline-solar-panels

2. V2G enables energy stored in electric vehicles to be fed back into the national electricity network (or ‘grid’) to help supply energy at times of peak demand or take back energy during periods of low demand. It could play an important part in helping to ‘balance’ the national electricity network. It is one part of a national initiative called demand side response (DSR): a programme that aims to rebalance our energy needs around the country by changing how we produce, supply and use energy. https://www.ovoenergy.com/guides/electric-cars/vehicle-to-grid-technology.html