Community–owned solar has been hugely successful in the UK. Small groups of dedicated volunteers have formed in practically every part of the country to deliver a variety of schemes, from small rooftop installs on parish halls to utility-scale solar farms. These schemes provide very low-carbon energy exactly where it is needed – at the heart of our communities. They also deliver an exciting array of positive outcomes – social cohesion, ethical investment, community benefit funds, training, education and employment. Above all, perhaps, they have shown that ordinary people are willing and able to work together to address climate change through thriving social businesses that they themselves initiate, fund, and manage.
The community solar movement in the UK was jump-started in 2011 with the introduction of Feed-in Tariffs (FiT) – the government’s support mechanism for small renewables. The tariffs made solar financially viable and together we did the rest. That support mechanism ended completely on 31 March 2019. With that current models for community solar simply stopped adding up.
We are faced with a stark choice – either we give up on community solar, or we come up with a new model. With only a decade in hand to avert disastrous climate change, throwing in the towel is not an option – particularly when we have shown that a citizen- led approach to low-carbon generation can work so well. While we work with many renewable energy technologies, solar has a particularly important role. We urgently need to decarbonise transport and heating – and doing so requires a huge increase in renewable electricity generation. There are hundreds of thousands of suitable solar sites in town and country, located right next to – or on top of – the current and future users of electricity.
The Big Solar Co-op is our new model. It builds on everything we have learned over the last 8 years working with community solar projects across the country. It will be a nationwide co-operative and movement, with the scale and effectiveness to work even in the absence of any Government subsidy or policy support. It will create meaningful and exciting roles for community solar activists, both existing and new – and it will build a huge amount of new community-owned solar over the next 10 years.