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My first year at the Big Solar Co-op

I love solar power. So how have I got on in my first year at the Big Solar Co-op?

I’ve worked closely with Shropshire Council, who are co-funders for my role and have connected me with business, public and community organisations with big rooftops across Shropshire, as well as promoting the work of the Big Solar Co-op. I’ve also been in close contact with Shropshire & Telford Community Energy (STCE), which has been set up to support establishing community-owned clean energy schemes in Shropshire and Telford & Wrekin.

In addition, I’ve engaged with hundreds of local businesses, charities and other organisations through presentations and business events, and built relationships with a large number of people from those organisations. The Big Solar Co-op team and our volunteers have put together around twenty commercial proposals, which include solar array designs, potential carbon savings and the price per kWh we would charge, and I’ve set up meetings with potential clients to talk them through these proposals.

So far, we have forty or so projects where we’ve had proposal meetings or are putting together proposals, and have signed up three large rooftop solar projects to go on to the next stage, where we check the grid connection and roof strength and come up with a detailed array design. Just these three projects nearing completion will reduce carbon emissions by 97 tonnes each year and save the organisations involved approximately half a million pounds in electricity costs over the next 20 years.

Although I can’t take any credit for it, the Big Solar Co-op’s first installation is currently going up at Kerry Taste & Nutrition, which is just this side of the Shropshire/Worcestershire border.  This project was delivered by Gordon Coppock, one of our volunteers, working with others on the Big Solar Co-op team before I came into post, and is a 750 panel 300 kW array.

Key learning points for me have been that, even though we think our offering is a ‘no brainer’, particularly with energy prices going through the roof over the last six months, it’s still a big decision for organisations to take for a number of reasons, such as:

  • A Big Solar Co-op contract lasts for thirty years and organisations aren’t used to signing such long-term contracts – we need to be very clear with our messaging to minimise the angst of signing long-term legal commitments. For example, reminding potential hosts about the five year buy out option.
  • Some organisations have purchasing processes they are required to follow, which can trip them up as they’re not actually making a capital purchase with us (we put the panels up free of charge) – we need to support organisations in their learning about processes they can follow without falling foul of tendering requirements.
  • Energy prices are very high but many organisations seem to be waiting to see whether and how much they come down before committing to a solar project – we need to keep track of energy prices and keep telling people about the benefits our clean energy offering brings.

There are of course other reasons people in organisations don’t move forward with us and we need to identify what those reasons are and adapt our marketing processes to help potential clients become actual clients. Plus, of course, we need to keep recruiting volunteers, develop the IT systems to support us in our work, and generate interest in our share offer.

All in all a great year, working with a great group of people. Hopefully, we can kick on in Shropshire and Telford and nationally and really make a significant reduction in carbon emissions. If you would like to get involved with my work in the Shropshire and Telford area or to find out more about funding or volunteering to support the work of the Big Solar Co-op, please get in touch.