The Big Solar Co-op is to jumpstarting community solar with a new volunteer-led, ethical model that works anywhere in the UK. We’re aiming to install 100MW of solar by 2030 – cutting carbon emissions to combat climate change.
Our different approach
An evolution of the traditional community solar model, we’re driven by dedicated and talented people. Our solar activists are mainly volunteers, some are (sometimes) paid.
In the traditional model, activists typically belong to a single solar co-operative based in their region. They take on a bewildering range of tasks, from site-finding to procurement to fundraising. Without specialist roles or support, it can sometimes be both frustrating and unproductive. Many solar co-ops with larger ambitions have stopped at one installation – very few have done more than scratch the surface of what is possible locally. Dedicated volunteers may become stuck servicing onerous management requirements instead of developing and building new projects.
The Big Solar Co-op takes a different approach. Our solar activists are part of a UK-wide solar co-op run by many groups working together. So, an activist might be part of their local site-finding group but also part of a national group specialising in one aspect of project delivery – for example PV research or co-op governance.
We nurture and grow our solar activist base by:
- Breaking down work into manageable portions to suit the varying amounts of time people have available to participate
- Encouraging specialisms to increase levels of expertise
- Providing support through peer mentoring and paid staff
- Bringing volunteers together with a sense of purpose, achievement and fun
A large-scale approach brings many benefits. With increased purchasing power and a standard approach, community solar can be viable under more challenging commercial conditions, without subsidies. It gives us the extra impetus we need to get over a higher bar. Volunteers can also use their time more productively doing what suits their skill sets and experience – whether that is scrutinising accounts, booking meeting venues, or updating a website.
We focus on solar embedded within communities – principally on rooftops rather than in fields. Every village, town and city has sites, right next to or on top of buildings that need reasonably priced, sustainable electricity. Demand is forecast to triple as people switch to electric driving and electric heating. Sooner or later every suitable rooftop will need to have solar panels.
Our focus is on large buildings, because here we can make the greatest impact. Commercial developers are already building solar fields at large scale and our models do not work well for domestic properties.
Our first sites are progressing in Birmingham, Stroud and Shropshire & Telford, where we have ‘nodes’ of local solar activists working to deliver them.
By 2030 we aim to:
- Install 100MW of rooftop solar. Each year this will save nearly 40,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions and produce enough electricity to drive over 250 million miles by electric car.
- Engage 250 active volunteers across 25 local groups.
- Create 10 new sustainable jobs.
- Create ethical, accessible social investment opportunities raising £25m.
- Save over £300,000 annually on fuel bills for community buildings and social housing.