This is an overview of our development process – how we go from finding a potential host site for rooftop solar PV to installing and managing the solar array.
Potential host sites are identified by a wide range of methods:
- Solar potential mapping – we and other bodies study areas to find theoretically good solar sites based on the size of buildings, type of roofs, grid connections etc
- Self-referral – building owners and energy users can contact us asking whether their site is suitable
- Local volunteers – our network of solar activists looking at their local area, suggesting and analysing sites
We use our own in house tools and expertise to quickly analyse a potential site and create an indicative 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.
Approach to site owners
Once we have an indicative design we approach the site owner to explain what we think is possible on their site, and to see whether they are interested in taking the project forward with us. We will be 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 – we just ask the site owner to confirm that they are interested in principle. With their help we can refine our indicative design and incorporate data about their energy use.
With more information gathered we put together a detailed outline proposal for the site owner which covers:
- Financial and carbon analysis including savings for site owners
- Refined design of solar installation
- Details of legal agreements
- An outline timescale
If the host site owner wishes to continue, they sign the exclusivity agreement and we move forward to the final design and installation phase. If they decide not to, they can keep the analysis we have done to date free of charge and we remain open to working with them in future.
Design and installation
A final detailed design is prepared by our in-house specialist – Chris Rigby and he will work alongside our local volunteers to put in place a schedule of works. The Big Solar Co-op will then undertake due diligence processes to obtain grid connection agreements, land registry searches and permissions to communicate with the host sites’ existing energy provider on their behalf. We would expect to be able to install within 6 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 Big Solar Co-op will use vetted, pre-approved installers who will put up panels purchased by the Big Solar Co-op, that meet their requirements for ethical sourcing.
The solar installation at the host site is financed and will be owned by the Big Solar Co-op via a community share offer with a projected rate of return for investors of 4%.
Operation and maintenance
The solar array will be operated by the Big Solar Co-op which manages all service and maintenance, cleaning, monitoring and optimisation of panels and associated equipment such as inverters and cabling. 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. Big Solar Co-op manages the export of energy and all regulatory issues with Ofgem and other relevant bodies. The site owner will have a named contact within Big Solar Co-op to deal with any site issues – and will schedule reviews to see if we can improve the installation or add improvements such as energy storage, vehicle charging etc.