The Big Solar Co-op is a nonprofit organisation dedicated to putting solar on every suitable big roof in Britain, with a core team of experienced staff, a national network of volunteers, and competitive finance from 500 investor members.
Global food company Kerry Taste & Nutrition are looking to reduce carbon emissions by 55% by 2030, and manage volatile energy costs. From an initial contact in late 2020, The Big Solar Coop and Kerry T&N together overcame the challenges of the pandemic, and issues with structural data and insurance requirements, to install a 294kW solar system on the roof of Kerry T&N’s Shropshire plant. The installation is projected to generate 250MWh of electricity annually, and save Kerry T&N almost £200,000 in energy costs over the next 20 years. This protects the company from energy market volatility and contributes to the future sustainability of the business and local jobs.
“The Big Solar Co-op has got lots more large solar rooftops in its pipeline all across the country. We are unlocking the huge potential of co-operatively owned solar on community and commercial rooftops, powering the way forward to a low carbon future.”Jon Hallé, Founder, The Big Solar Co-op
The Big Solar Co-op offer
The UK energy situation
Energy prices have been headline news for the last couple of years, and there is little sign of this changing. Many analysts expect relatively high but volatile prices into the medium term – a nightmare for businesses trying to plan for the future and manage their costs.
Driven by electricity bills and sustainability concerns, some companies are installing solar PV on their roofs. However, install prices are volatile, and there is a looming scandal around the use of slave labour in the Chinese-made solar panels that currently dominate the industry.
How to do the right thing when money is tight, doing anything is expensive, and there is so much uncertainty?
Enter the Big Solar Co-op
The Big Solar Co-op is a non-profit organisation on a mission to put solar on every suitable big roof in the UK. The Big Solar Co-op finances solar PV installations itself, raising money (over £1m to date) from a UK-wide community of investor members. That means zero upfront capital cost to businesses that host Big Solar Co-op panels. The Big Solar Co-op then offers a long-term fixed price power purchase agreement (PPA) to host organisations, with an option to buy out after five years.
The Big Solar Co-op has an experienced team, and uses only high quality components – including German-made Meyer Burger panels, with the strongest environmental and human rights credentials of any solar panels on the UK market. Despite this, the Big Solar Co-op’s low cost of capital and non-profit approach allows it to offer a competitive price for the solar energy generated by their panels.
“We couldn’t be more pleased that our first UK solar installation is with the Big Solar Co-op who have a genuinely innovative approach to community owned solar, helping businesses and communities increase their energy independence.”Scott McDaniel, Head of Sales UK & Ireland, Meyer Burger
The Big Solar Co-op installation for Kerry Taste & Nutrition
“Working with the Big Solar Co-op has been a smooth, straightforward process and we are looking forward to a long-term productive relationship with them.”Kerry Baker, Plant Manager, Kerry Taste & Nutrition
Like many businesses, Kerry Taste & Nutrition was facing rising energy bills. In addition, as a food sector company, Kerry T&N had to maintain high standards of hygiene throughout any works on their site.
Gordon Coppock is a Herefordshire-based energy expert, and one of the Big Solar Co-op’s national network of volunteers. Grid information from Western Power Distribution suggested that grid capacity might be available for a large solar installation at Kerry T&N’s plant in Shropshire.
Gordon was already a strong supporter of energy co-operatives, and initially started this project in 2020 on behalf of Pomona Solar CoOp Ltd where he is a director. As the Big Solar Co-op started to become established, it was decided by the Pomona board to work with them to facilitate this project.
From Kerry T&N’s acceptance of the initial Big Solar Co-op proposal at the end of 2021 to the commissioning of the system in August 2023, several obstacles had to be overcome. As an international company, all contractual steps with Kerry T&N had to be confirmed via the HQ in Ireland. A structural survey was needed to confirm the load-bearing capacity of the roofs, and the results of the survey meant that the solar array needed to be redesigned. Insurance policies also required several measures additional to those required by the Microgeneration Certification Scheme, which we took on board and achieved an insurance-compliant installation. Throughout this process, we drew on our experience in the renewables industry – which has taught us that every project has its own unique quirks! – and the strong working relationship we had built with Kerry T&N.
The solar installation
The installation comprises 763 panels with a capacity of 294 kWp, projected to generate an average of over 250 MWh annually. This is equivalent to 62 households’ annual energy consumption. The installation is projected to save Kerry T&N almost £200,000 over 20 years, and to save 52 tonnes of CO2 emissions in the first year alone. The modules, monitoring system and a cabling was installed by Basingstoke Energy Co-operative, working with their partners Ecogen Energy and JPH Electricals.
“This project threw up a few unexpected challenges but working closely with Chris Rigby and the Big Co-op team, we overcame each barrier as they arose. This is the future for community energy – co-operative installers working alongside co-operative owners; so the benefits of community energy are shared across the community. Hopefully this is the first of many such installations.”Martin Heath, Basingstoke Energy Co-operative
Kerry T&N is a major employer in South Shropshire and the reduction in operating costs resulting from the solar installation will help ensure the company continues to contribute to the local economy, especially at a time when other costs are rising sharply. The price is fixed for 30 years, rising only with inflation. This gives Kerry T&N stability and security in its energy costs. However, Kerry T&N also has an option to buy out the contract after five years. We believe that the Big Solar Co-op is the only developer offering this option in the UK market.
“I saw for myself at Kerry Taste and Nutrition the way in which imaginative community energy projects, such as the community funded Big Solar Co-op scheme here in Burford, can fund capital costs while reducing business operating costs, as well as reducing our reliance on traditional carbon fuel sources.”Philip Dunne MP, Chair of the UK Parliament Environmental Audit Committee