Energy minister – community schemes central to solar’s future

Energy minister Greg Barker, called for more community-funded solar projects across the country as he visited one of the first schools in the UK to generate its energy from a community-funded solar project.

“The way to get a wider up take of solar is through community schemes,” Barker said yesterday at the Cherwell School in Oxford. “We want community energy groups to flourish.”

As much as a quarter of The Cherwell School’s total energy needs are now provided by a 230-panel solar installation – over two roofs – that was installed by solar experts Joju Solar. The installation produces a 46kw peak.

It also has a weather station on the roof and will soon have a software link from the website to all desktops at the school showing real-time generation data.

“It’s not just a one off investment that saves a bit of money on electricity, it’s an ongoing piece of work that the students will benefit from in years to come,” said Julie Stewart-Thompson, assistant head teacher, The Cherwell School

“We are going to have the most fantastic set of real, live, data the students can use, in geography and science in particular… they hear about solar farms on the news and now they can be physically part of it.”

Cherwell School was chosen as the site by newly-formed community benefit society the Oxford North Community renewables project (Onocre).

It issued a share offer in May – minimum investment £250 maximum £10,000 – and raised the £160,000 required from local people in a matter of weeks.

Barker said he hope that many more schools around the UK would set up similar community-funded solar installation projects. “In the future, schools will be obliged to take a look at their energy efficiency and we are working on the models to help them do that,” he said.

Local energy champion, Steve Cappleman, added: “The interaction between the school, the community group, and Joju shows how beneficial this kind of project would be to a number of schools.”