How you can help get solar onto more roofs in your community: the Big Solar Co-op

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Posted Jun 23 2021 by Dave Darby of Lowimpact.org
Help get solar onto more roofs in your community: Big Solar Co-op

As it’s Community Energy Fortnight, I thought I’d have a word with my old mate Jon Hallé, who used to run Lowimpact’s ‘How to Make Biodiesel’ courses in the early noughties (and authored a book of the same title with us), and since then has gone on to found Sharenergy, who have helped over 100 community energy schemes to launch, using wind, solar, hydro and biomass. We’ll publish an interview with Jon soon, but first I wanted to tell you about his latest venture – the Big Solar Co-op (BSC), who help get solar onto roofs in communities. We think it’s a great project – do contact them if you think you’d like solar panels on the roof of the building you work in, own or just walk past regularly.

What it is

BSC is a UK-wide not-for-profit organisation (a co-operative) making it easy to put solar on rooftops. They install, own and manage the panels and there is no capital cost for building owners. They sell you power from your roof for less than you are currently paying for grid electricity.

How it works

Potential sites are identified via solar potential mapping, local volunteers or self-referral.

BSC then use their in-house tools and expertise to quickly analyse a potential site and carry out an outline design in OpenSolar. This work is largely carried out by remote-working volunteers who are trained in the use of this online software and supported by both experienced volunteers and paid staff. They put the analysis together into an outline proposal for landowners.

Once they have an outline proposal they approach the site owner to explain what they think is possible on their site, and to see whether they are potentially interested in taking the project forward. They are able to give an idea of how much energy the panels will generate for the host site. At this stage there is absolutely no commitment  – they just ask the site owner to confirm that they are interested in principle.

With more information gathered they put together a detailed proposal for the site owner which covers:

  • Financial and carbon analysis including savings for site owners
  • Improved design of solar installation
  • Details of any legal agreements needed
  • An outline timescale
  • A binding agreement in draft

If the site owner wishes to continue, they sign the binding agreement and move forward to the design and installation phase. If they decide not to, they can keep the analysis to date free of charge and BSC remain open to working with them in future.

A final detailed design is prepared by their in-house specialist. A project manager will work alongside local volunteers to put in place a schedule of works. The solar array is financed and will be owned by the BSC, which will obtain any grid connection agreements, planning agreements (where required). Installation could be expected within 3 months of receiving a binding agreement except in cases where planning permission or grid connections are more complex, or where site owners have specific requirements for installation date.

The solar array will be operated by the BSC which deals with all service and maintenance, cleaning, monitoring and optimisation. The site owner (or other connected energy user) will be billed for all the solar energy they use. The remaining energy is exported to the grid. BSC manages the export of energy and all regulatory issues with Ofgem and other relevant bodies. The site owner will have a named contact within BSC to deal with any site issues – and reviews are scheduled to see if the installation can be improved, or improvements added, such as energy storage, vehicle charging etc.

How you can get involved – building owners and users

If you own or involved with a building that has a roof that you think would be good for solar, this is the message from BSC:

We’ll work with you to analyse your site. It does not have to be south-facing, or in a particularly sunny part of the UK. You will need a sound roof and it will help if you use quite a lot of power on-site.

  1. We will give you a proposal based on an attractive electricity tariff and a flexible long-term agreement to site our panels on your roof.
  2. We’ll manage installation, maintenance and management of the panels

The Big Solar Co-op is a good partner – we are ethical and open, supported by existing coops with an excellent track record. Our bottom line is to reduce climate change and our finance comes from community shares and bonds – members of the public investing for a small but stable and ethical financial return.

Send us an email to set up an chat over the phone or on Zoom. We can analyse your roof and tell you if it is viable for solar, with no obligation and no hard sell.

How you can get involved – volunteers

The BSC is powered by volunteers.  If you’d like to be involved in making a lot more rooftop solar happen locally or nationally :

  1. Fill out this simple form to let them know that you are interested in volunteering.
  2. Sign a non-disclosure agreement with Sharenergy (a bit of legalese but nothing too scary).
  3. Attend a training webinar for the OpenSolar online software that the Big Solar Co-op uses.
  4. Receive link to their custom OpenSolar documentation.
  5. Join their #opensolar Slack channel for support and ideas from other volunteers and BSC staff.
  6. Get cracking with designing solar arrays!

In the longer term the Big Solar Co-op will be supporting volunteers to liaise with local leads, negotiate with building owners and in some cases take on short term paid roles to project manage installations in specific areas.