business energy

Join Britain’s first consumer-owned solar park

Ripple Energy made a few waves a couple of years ago with a consumer-owned wind farm, the first of its kind in Britain. This month they have launched a solar park along similar lines, and you can now buy into the scheme. Its the first shared solar scheme in the UK, though it has been done elsewhere before – I wrote about this one in Lithuania a couple of years ago.

Usually community energy involves profit-sharing. You buy into a cooperative, and you get a share of the revenues as the wind farm or solar park generates electricity. I have a small stake in a couple of community energy coops myself. Ripple’s co-ownership model is slightly different. Owners get savings on their energy bills instead, depending on the share they own. The power is still delivered through the grid and the discount is organised through participating utility companies – but you own that solar panel, so the energy it produces is yours, even if it isn’t attached to your roof.

There are several benefits to this. For a start, the economics of solar improve at scale. That means it’s much cheaper to buy five or six panels on a solar farm than it is to have the same number installed on your home. This democratises self-generation, and you don’t need a lot of money to take part. By the time you’ve factored in installation and scaffolding costs, it isn’t worth putting one or two solar panels on your roof. They’d never pay for themselves. But with Ripple’s model, you can become an owner from as little as £25.

Another useful aspect of co-ownership has become all the more important in recent months: it’s a one-off cost. There’s no subscription involved – you pay once, and that funds construction. (Or in this case, the purchase of the solar farm). You then get the benefits over the long term, and that protects owners from rising energy prices.

One more: since they’re not attached to your roof, you can move house and still benefit from your solar panels. The discount moves with you.

One downside to co-ownership is that because it still relies on the grid to provide electricity to owner’s homes, they still have to pay standing charges and supplier costs. That makes it impossible to bring your bills to zero using the co-ownership model, but you can still put a significant dent in your energy costs while cutting carbon emissions at the same time. The website has some simple tools to work out how much you can expect to save in return for your shares. Participating households in Ripple’s earlier wind scheme saved an average of £300.

It’s early days for consumer-owned renewables, but I look forward to seeing more of it in future. 900 people bought into Ripple’s first wind farm. A larger wind scheme, currently under construction in Scotland, has 5,600 co-owners. If you’d like to join these pioneers, the Derril Water Solar Park has been open to local buyers only for a couple of weeks, and opens to everyone else in the country today.


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