The Big Solar Co-op targets new locations for delivery of community solar projects

The national community energy organisation that describes itself as ‘an exciting new approach to subsidy-free community solar’ aims to unlock the huge potential of rooftop solar.

Energy co-op aims to unlock huge potential of community-owned solar

Having raised over £1 million so far from 500 investors who have bought into a rolling share offer that invites investment from £100 with a 5% target annual return the co-operative is already working on its first installation at a Shropshire food-processing plant.

The project will see around 650 panels with a capacity of over 295kW installed, using ethically-sourced, sustainable solar panels from Swiss company Meyer Burger — the first time Meyer Burger panels have been used on this scale in the UK.

Meyer Burger established a manufacturing business in Germany in 2021 using 100% renewable energy and a “substantial proportion” of polysilicon sourced from Germany and South Korea, rather than China. 

“The panels are also certified free from lead and PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) making them simple to recycle at the end of their life,” says The Big Solar Co-op, claiming the rooftop solar installation to be one of the most sustainable and ethical in the UK.

Ethical solar

Jon Hallé, co-founder of The Big Solar Co-op, explains the choice of panel supplier: “As champions of environmental and social justice and active participants in the solar industry, we need to both understand the supply chain issues and act on our findings. Our research brought us to Meyer Burger who are showing genuine leadership on the solar sourcing problem matched with real quantifiable progress.

“Meyer Burger panels combine very high quality and efficiency with a serious claim to be both the most ethical and greenest panels in the UK market. We’re proud to be pioneering their use in the UK market.”

With a target is to install 100MW by 2030 (equivalent to the energy used by about 30,000 homes), The Big Solar Co-op is targeting additional areas to add more solar. Stroud in Gloucestershire is another location where businesses and community buildings could get free solar panels, thanks to the not-for-profit energy co-operative.

Maria Ardley, the local co-ordinator for Gloucestershire, commented: “I was initially recruited to work in Stroud District, in collaboration with Transition Stroud. However, we could immediately see the potential for great rooftops for solar across the whole county.

“The potential savings for buildings such as industrial units, schools and colleges, care homes and hospitals across Gloucestershire is huge, both in terms of savings on energy bills and on carbon emissions. It’s also a great way for local businesses to show their commitment to reaching net zero by 2030.’

No capital outlay

Qualifying businesses and community buildings can have solar panels installed for no capital cost. Suitable rooftops need to be south, east or west-facing and in sound condition, with a surface area around the size of a tennis court (300m²). The building will also need to have significant daytime electricity usage throughout the year.

The Big Solar Co-op owns and manages the panels, selling the electricity generated directly to the host site and to the grid. This means that the host site benefits from reduced energy bills and a smaller carbon footprint.

Jon elaborates: “We’ve come up with an offer which is much more appealing to big energy users than commercial rent-a-roof schemes.

“Our terms are more flexible and as a carbon-first organisation we are not taking big profits out so the savings to host sites are significant.

“We also have a great offer for volunteers who want to make more solar happen in their neighbourhood. By operating across the UK and providing support through a broad network we can make it happen together and make a difference to climate change.”

Installations are based on a flexible legal agreement, which includes a buyout clause after five years with no penalty fees for the business.

As well as looking for new solar locations, The Big Solar Co-op is also seeking investors to unlock more potential.

A huge pipeline

“We’ve got lots more large solar rooftops in our pipeline all across the country,” Jon comments. “Investing with us helps us to unlock the huge potential of co-operatively owned solar on community and commercial rooftops, powering the way forward to a low carbon future.”

By 2030 The Big Solar Co-op aims to:

  • Install 100MW of rooftop solar. Each year this will save nearly 40,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions and produce enough electricity to drive over 250 million miles by electric car.
  • Engage 250 active volunteers across 25 local groups.
  • Create 10 new sustainable jobs.
  • Create ethical, accessible social investment opportunities raising £25m.
  • Save over £300,000 annually on fuel bills for community buildings and social housing.