Saturday, 28 February 2015

Community energy shines

TRESOC is poised to launch the Shine Project! This is an extensive social housing roof-top solar project in the South Hams. It is worth noting that in 2014, according to the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), more than 125,000 homes in the UK installed roof-top solar photovoltaic (PV) systems. The Shine Project alone will add over 70 homes to the 2015 tally. The installations will benefit from the feed-in tariff (FiT) offered by Ofgem, which gives a set income for each unit of electricity generated for the next 20 years. At the same time the tenants of the homes benefit from reduced electricity costs. Looking more broadly, the Solar Trade Association stated that 700MW of PV FiT projects were completed in 2014 in the UK. That is equivalent to about 58 million low-energy light bulbs! Ofgem reports that overall in the UK the FiT scheme has passed 3GW of installations. That is equivalent to an impressive 250 million low energy lights bulbs or 1.2 million electric kettles! The 3GW is made up of over half a million projects of which 99% are PV projects. By the way, the SW comes about tops with 16% of all FiT projects (London and the SE comes in second with 14%).

The scale of FiT installations is twice the number forecast by DECC. Clearly when these schemes are introduced there is good uptake. This reduces the need for building additional power stations - large infrastructure projects taking years to complete and at increasingly huge budgets. The 3GW FiT ‘power station’ was completed in 4 years. How’s that for keeping the lights burning! I have just returned from South Africa where the lights are not always burning due to a lack of capacity. Load shedding is happening and South Africans are subjected to electricity cuts for 2 hours a day on a rotational basis – and this is expected to go on for 2 to 3 years at huge cost to business and inconvenience residents. You may think, “Ah, but that is a developing country”. Well, the UK is getting dangerously close to the same situation – in winter 2011 there was a 17% reserve margin, this winter it is at only 4%. Generally a reserve margin of 15% is accepted as robust and able to handle any unforeseen power station failures – 4% seems quite a bit below this! In addition to helping with capacity, the uptake of FiT clean energy projects would also contribute to climate change mitigation. The UK Climate Change Act of 2008 sets out to reduce carbon emissions by 80% from the 1990 baseline by 2050. Any electricity generated by clean energy would help reach this target.

Decentralised locally owned power generation creates a more stable network and better power security. For this reason, and those above, it should be encouraged, right? So why then is the FiT programme being scaled back? The residential roof top solar FiT will fall for the first time since 2012 after April this year - that may well reduce the uptake. While it is widely thought that solar will become the cheapest form of energy there is a transition period where schemes such as the FiT will encourage the installation by community groups or individuals and clean energy will be fed into the national grid.

Despite the regression of FiT the growth of community energy continues to increase. Recently Albion Community Power in Scotland received a £50million loan from the UK Green Investment Bank and a further £10million from the Strathclyde Pension Fund. Albion is looking for £100million to invest in various renewable energy projects such as run-of-river hydro projects - that is flow through a hydro turbine and back into the river without major damming, similar to the proposed hydro plant at the River Dart weir in Totnes. The first Albion project is a 2MW hydro scheme in Chaorach north of Loch Lomond. The project pipeline also extends to onshore wind on previously used, and often contaminated, sites as well as projects of biogas from organic waste.

Business Secretary Vice Cable said in relation to Albion’s plans: “Renewable energy is the future”. Indeed, a Mintel study stated that 77% of people in the UK want more renewable energy and that 78% support PV on new houses. The survey stated that if we have to have an electricity generating plant in our backyard, then the most desirable is a solar farm while a large portion said that nuclear was the least desirable. It seems the sun is indeed shining on community and renewable energy!

Thanks to reNEWS ( for much of the information regurgitated here –a newsletter appears daily in my inbox!

Alastair Gets
Project Officer

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