Solar PV is a mature renewable energy technology, well suited to community renewable energy projects. Panels capture energy from the sun using photovoltaic cells. These cells do not need direct sunlight to work - they can still generate some electricity on a cloudy day. The cells convert sunlight into electricity, which can then be used directly on-site (e.g. within a community building or home) or exported onto the grid. Community solar can be developed in many different ways, from installing small arrays on domestic properties to large arrays on community buildings or ground-mounted in the form of a solar park.
In most cases the income from a community solar project comes from a government incentive, the feed-in tariff, as well as selling electricity back to the grid or through a Power Purchase Agreement and potentially through savings in on-site energy use.
What are the benefits?
There are a wide range of benefits to using solar PV in your community which include: -
- Solar PV is a straightforward, well understood technology with a predictable output. This makes it easier to understand the associated costs and risks than with other technologies.
- Roof-mounted solar PV is generally less controversial than many other technologies so planning permission is less of a barrier.
- Solar PV offers a steady income stream via the feed-in tariff, with possible tax-breaks further improving the rate of return to local investors.
- Community solar projects produce low carbon electricity which can be used to reduce the energy bills of a community building. Excess power is exported and therefore reduces the carbon emissions of the grid as a whole, providing both local and wider environment benefits.
- Community owned solar projects can provide local economic benefit through building skills, creating new jobs and providing work for local installers.
- Solar PV can be scaled to provide 100% of its output to a building. This will remove the need for an export grid connection and avoid any grid-constraints (e.g. over capacity from existing renewables)
What are the options for community owned solar?
There are many different development models that a community group can choose for their solar PV project. The following list gives a brief overview of different models to help you decide what level of community involvement you might choose. The options are examined in more detail in the solar PV module on the resources page.
Community group leads and develops the project - for this option the community group would take on the full role of developer. The group would take full responsibility for all the technical, commercial and financial risks and is responsible for managing the on-going budget. This is the most involved option, but offers the highest financial benefit and the ability to control all processes and outcomes.
Community group partnership - for this option the community group would identify and initiate the project but share costs and risks with another party in the form of a 'Shared Ownership Joint Venture'. This can make the process easier, however the benefits to the community group are reduced proportionally.
Community initiation - for this option a community group would identify a potential project, gain permissions to use the site and then negotiate with a developer to move the project forward. By initiating the project the community group can often negotiate favourable benefits. Although as the majority of the risks lie with the developer, so do the benefits.
Developer led with community sale offer - this option will have been initiated by a developer looking to get a community group involved. A developer will offer to sell the entire project (or a proportion) to a community group with the associated benefits.
Entirely developer - this option involves a project being entirely created and led by a developer. The community group is offered an annual community benefit payment. The entirety of the project risk lies with the developer, however community benefit is likely to be small in respect to the size of the project.
Rural solar PV projects can access the Rural Community Energy Fund RCEF administered by Wrap.
Ofgem provides guidance on how to benefit from the special provisions for community energy and school installations under the Feed-in tariff scheme and how to apply.
Ofgem also provides guidance on applying for large (>50kWp) solar installations. The page contains details on ROO-FIT accreditation and how to apply.
OST Energy have created a rooftop performance enhancement guide.
BRE NCS and RECC have developed a guide on the basics of battery storage for solar PV systems and what to consider to work out if they are for you.