Big Solar Co-op


The vision

The Big Solar Coop is a new approach to post-subsidy community solar which will deliver 100 MW of new solar by 2025. It is an evolution of the current community solar model and driven by the same force – dedicated and talented people. Most are volunteers, some are (sometimes) paid – let’s call them solar activists.

In the current model, activists generally belong to a single solar co-operative, which is generally based in their region. They take on a bewildering range of tasks:

  • Site finding
  • Landowner negotiations
  • Business planning
  • Fundraising and outreach
  • Technology procurement
  • Build supervision
  • On-going business management
  • Co-op governance

In many small solar co-ops these roles are often taken on by a single person or very small group, sometimes for years on end. Some may like it that way, but for many it turns out to be a frustrating experience, and an unproductive one. Many solar co-ops with larger ambitions have stopped at one installation – only a handful have done more than scratch the surface of what is possible locally. Dedicated activists become stuck servicing onerous management requirements instead of developing and building new solar.

The Big Solar Coop will take a different approach. Instead of joining a small local co-op, activists will be invited to join a UK-wide solar co-op, which is run by several groups working closely together. In this new model, 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 solar PV research or co-op governance. We will nurture and grow our activist base by:

  • Breaking down the work into more manageable portions to enable people with less time to participate
  • Encouraging specialisms and the increase of expertise
  • Providing support through peer mentoring and paid staff
  • Bringing volunteers together with a sense of purpose, achievement and fun

A larger scale approach brings other benefits – increased purchasing power and standardisation of approach will enable community solar to be viable under much harsher commercial conditions. Crucially, the removal of duplicated functions frees activists up to do the important work they need to do – not everybody wants to or needs to scrutinise accounts, book halls for AGMs, or update a website.

We’re focusing on solar embedded within communities – principally on rooftops rather than solar fields. There are many such sites for solar in every village, town and city, right next to or on top of buildings that need reasonably priced, sustainable electricity. That demand is going to soar as electric vehicles take over. Sooner or later every suitable rooftop will need to have solar panels. The key question is – who will own them and who will benefit? We think the community sector is uniquely well placed to lead this new solar revolution.

By 2023 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 5 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.

We made a low-fi film of Jon’s talk in Nov 2019 – it’s 30 mins long and covers the background to the Big Solar Co-op and how we see it shaping up. We plan to make some snappier explainer films soon but for now this is a good summary. The talk was given to an audience of existing community solar activists and is mainly from that perspective.