23 May 2012
UK community group Repowering South London has successfully completed the initial stage of the capital's first cooperatively owned solar power project on social housing.
As part of the scheme, known as Brixton Energy Solar 1, the group installed several hundred square metres of solar panels on the roof of Elmore House in the inner-city Loughborough Estate in Brixton. The 37.24 kWp system, which was installed by Southern Solar in March, is made up of a total of 152 x 245w ET P660 solar panels, fitted alongside two Wagner & Co inverters and a TRIC racking system, also from Wagner & Co.
According to Agamemnon Otero, Co-founder, Director & Project Manager of Brixton Energy and Repowering South London, the project was motivated by concerns around peak oil, peak gas, climate change and social injustice.
"Concerned residents came together around a common goal of decentralised co-operatively owned renewable energy for the welfare of our neighbourhood," he explains.
At this stage, communal spaces such as lifts will be powered by the array, which will offset a total of 13 tonnes of carbon annually. However, although a reduced energy rate has been negotiated with the housing association, the nature of the existing house billing and metering system means that there will not yet be a direct reduction in the price paid by residents.
Community energy efficiency fund
Following a model used successfully elsewhere in the UK, the Solar1 project has been established as a co-operative society - a not-for-profit organisation jointly owned and operated by a group of people for their mutual benefit.
"They are democratic enterprises, operating with a one member, one vote policy. This means, for instance, that the members of the Co-operative will decide collectively who will serve on the Board of Directors and how to divide and distribute the income generated from the project," explains Otero.
Funding for the initiative was raised by a community share offer, which promises to provide a return to investors of up to 3% annually. A total of 81 people, mostly from the local area, invested sums ranging from £250 to £20,000, helping to raise an impressive £58,000 in less than a month.
A key innovation is the incorporation of a Community Energy Efficiency Fund, which takes a percentage of the profit that would typically flow into an annual share payment to investors, and diverts it into a separate fund devoted to investing in energy-saving improvements in the local area
"The use of the Fund will be overseen by the directors of the Co-operative. However, initiatives will always be developed through consultation with the local community and by voting from the full co-operative members," says Otero.
These initiatives range from the promotion and installation of low-cost energy efficiency measures to local awareness raising workshops and work-experience on installations - one Loughborough Estate resident even had the opportunity to work on the installation with Southern Solar.
So far, the reaction amongst the local community has been overwhelmingly positive. Although the project team, which consists entirely of locals, have unrelated jobs and, as Otero puts it, “struggle with daily trials and tribulations,” they continue to offer their unflinching support - support that ran to 2,200 hours of time over the last year at meetings in local Brixton pubs and at the Loughborough Community Centre.
"We have a diverse range of expertise beyond the normal 'wash, clean, cook, garden and feed' type, including research, legal, project management, journalism, engineering, web development, communications, grant writing, finance, sales, behavioural change and civil administration expertise, and more!" says Otero.
He explains that Loughborough residents, “Brixtonians” and Lambeth councillors all feel the project has been a success, and he highlights the fact that further affirmation from the local community can be measured by the numerous consultations and surveys carried out by the project team, as well as the response from the 81 investors, 150 people who signed up on the project website and the 270 Twitter followers. He also points to the results of a door-to-door survey of Elmore house residents, which found that almost everyone (90%) is interested in saving energy and most (64%) think that it's a good idea for electricity generation to be owned by the community.
"The community was of the utmost importance, as they made it happen! In total, we had nine investors from the Loughborough estate, some 11% of all investors. [In addition], 85% were from Lambeth and 98% from London," he says.
"While a few of us work in the renewable sector, the volunteer team that formed over the 15 months prior is the reason why this project has been so successful. Most importantly, we can boast enthusiasm, and the courage to attempt courteous group dialogue around really hard issues of social welfare," he adds.
Written by Andrew Williams, Contributing Editor, UK, Solar Novus Today