Businesses and community buildings in Gloucestershire could get free solar panels installed on their roofs, thanks to a new, not-for-profit energy co-operative launching in the county.
The Big Solar Co-op is completely community owned by members of the public, describing itself as 'an exciting new approach to subsidy-free community solar' and is on a mission to install solar roofs on community and commercial buildings across Gloucestershire.
Qualifying businesses and community buildings can have solar panels installed for no capital cost. The Big Solar Co-op owns and manages the panels, selling the electricity generated directly to the host site and to the grid.
This means that the host site benefits from reduced energy bills and a smaller carbon footprint, as well as having a hedge against future energy price rises — and isn't reliant on government subsidies, such as the Feed-In Tariff which was scrapped in 2019.
Installations are based on a flexible legal agreement, which includes a buyout clause after five years with no penalty fees for the business.
In order to qualify, buildings need to have a roof with an area of around 250m² which is south, east or west-facing and in sound condition. The business must also have significant daytime electricity usage throughout the year.
The co-operative is already working on its first installation at Kerry T&N in Shropshire using ethically-sourced, sustainable solar panels from Swiss company Meyer Burger — the first time Meyer Burger panels have been used on this scale in the UK.
The project will see around 650 panels with a capacity of over 295kW installed at the Tenbury Wells-based food processing plant, with the reduced operating costs of using solar energy helping to ensure the business can continue contributing to the local economy in spite of the sharp rises in other costs.
As well as looking for new solar locations, The Big Solar Co-op is also seeking investors, having raised £1 million from 500 investors through its rolling share offer, which aims to pay a target annual return of five per cent or bank base rate plus two per cent, whichever is higher; with share interest being tax free for some shareholders under the Personal Savings Allowance Scheme.
Co-founder of The Big Solar Co-op, Jon Hallé, said: 'As champions of environmental and social justice and active participants in the solar industry, we need to both understand the supply chain issues and act on our findings. Our research brought us to Meyer Burger who are showing genuine leadership on the solar sourcing problem matched with real quantifiable progress. Meyer Burger panels combine very high quality and efficiency with a serious claim to be both the most ethical and greenest panels in the UK market. We’re proud to be pioneering their use in the UK market.
'We’ve got lots more large solar rooftops in our pipeline all across the country. Investing with us helps us to unlock the huge potential of co-operatively-owned solar on community and commercial rooftops, powering the way forward to a low carbon future.'
Maria Ardley is the local co-ordinator for Gloucestershire — she added: 'I was initially recruited to work in Stroud District, in collaboration with Transition Stroud. However, we could immediately see the potential for great rooftops for solar across the whole county.
'The potential savings for buildings such as industrial units, schools and colleges, care homes and hospitals across Gloucestershire is huge, both in terms of savings on energy bills and on carbon emissions. It's also a great way for local businesses to show their commitment to reaching net zero by 2030.'