In Edinburgh the local council recently announced a new project designed to install community owned solar panels on buildings around the entire capital. The Edinburgh Community Solar Co-operative (ECSC) supported by Energy4All will work in partnership with the council on the project which is believed to be the largest community owned urban renewable energy initiative in the UK.
The scheme is expected to include public buildings including schools, community and leisure centres, and libraries, will be selected to site the technology which the project claims will bring major environmental and social benefits to the area.
The generated energy will help reduce the amount the council spend on electricity whilst at the same time reduce the city’s carbon emissions by an estimated 850million tonnes per year. The specific building used in the scheme will benefit directly from cheaper electricity from the panels which is expected to result in significant savings. Surplus energy will be sold to the National Grid and profits are to be reinvested locally via a new Community Benefit Fund.
Speaking at the launch of the project Councillor Adam McVey Vice Convener of Transport and Environment said “This is fantastic news for Edinburgh and will bring long term environmental, social and economic benefits. Community energy co-operatives allow local people to play a part in building a greener, more sustainable environment whilst raising awareness more generally about the importance of being energy efficient. We are aiming to meet our target of reducing Edinburgh’s carbon emissions by 42% by 2020 and this project is an important step towards us achieving this.”
Shares will be offered to all who wish to get involved in the scheme however priority will be given to residents of Edinburgh. Members will receive annual interest on their investment, capped at 5% and increasing with RPI, with the surplus invested in the community benefit fund.
It is also planned to use the solar panels as an educational tool for projects to help engage local pupils in environmental issues. Each device will have a real time display of amount of energy generated which will be displayed on the buildings and will also be accessible to pupils online.
Dr Richard Dixon, Chair of the ECSC, said: “2015 is an important year for climate change, with the world’s nations supposed to agree new global targets in Paris at the end of the year. Around the world local people are creating their own solutions to climate change by investing in local renewable energy schemes.
“The Edinburgh scheme is a winner all round because it will reduce climate emissions and provide cheap energy for schools and other Council buildings. Local people will also get a decent return on any money they choose to invest.”
Lang Banks director at WWF Scotland welcomed the project and said more property owners should follow the council’s example and make the switch to renewable energy.
He added: “Using council property to install solar panels on is a smart move that over their lifetime will help the capital to avoid thousands of tonnes of climate change emissions. In addition to improving the energy efficiency of buildings, we’d very much encourage all local authorities to look into the possibility of using their land and buildings to generate clean energy.
“Solar power is growing in popularity in Scotland, especially in urban areas where alternatives such as wind turbines might not be possible. For the one thousand Edinburgh households that have already installed solar panels, during April there was enough sun to effectively meet all of their electricity or hot water needs, helping to reduce their reliance on polluting fossil fuels.
“With these sorts of figures, every home, business or council with a south-facing roof should seriously consider switching on to the full potential of solar power.”
Analysis by WWF Scotland of solar data for Scotland by WeatherEnergy found that during April 2015 for homes fitted with solar PV panels there was enough sunshine to generate 113% of the electricity required by an average home in the capital and for those homes fitted with solar hot water panels there was enough sunshine in the city to generate an estimated 100% of an average homes hot water demand.
Project staff are currently indentifying suitable sites and buildings for the panels and the successful locations will be announced later this year.
Scotland isn’t exactly renowned for its sunny climate however the figures above show that despite a perceived lack of direct sunlight there is enough to justify a project on a scale such as the one detailed above. Scotland’s relatively long days between the spring and autumn equinoxes, even without the sun shining directly, can produce enough energy to provide its capital’s households with a surplus of electricity from a clean renewable source.
The Edinburgh Community Solar Co-operative is an excellent example of how a local authority and local community can work together to create a clean and sustainable energy future for all involved. At a time when the cost of energy can be expensive both financially and environmentally projects such as the ECSC go some way to redressing the balance. It may not be the entire solution but it certainly is part of it and it, along with other similar projects should be encouraged. The more councils and communities that adopt similar strategies the more it will benefit us all.