Solar power is not just for sunny places. Across London people are coming together with their neighbours to invest in small solar farms on roofs of social housing estates, schools and community buildings. However, proposed changes in the rules for small scale renewables could put this local energy revolution at serious risk.
London is currently lagging behind the rest of the UK in solar power. Even unsunny Scotland has more installed solar power per person than London. One of the main reasons for this is that so many of us in the capital live in rented flats. London has more 'people per roof' than the rest of the country, and we are less likely to own the roof we live under. This makes it harder for individuals to invest in their own little rooftop power stations. However, enterprising Londoners have been getting over this hurdle by forming community energy co-operatives.
Repowering London is a social enterprise that has established three community energy schemes in Brixton. And they are on track to build Hackney's first solar co-operative scheme with Hackney Energy and residents from the Banister House Estate. Here the community is just as important as the energy. Working with local residents they create a business model to raise investment to cover the costs of installation. Revenue from the scheme is partly reinvested in community projects and a reasonable profit is returned to investors. Training and internships are a key element of their projects, providing young local people with engineering skills and work experience. Build-your-own solar cell workshops are particularly popular.
The Problem With Current Policy Changes
Solar power and community energy have been growing rapidly in recent years, thanks in part to various forms of subsidy. Green Party and London Assembly member Jenny Jones says, "Given the right incentives community-owned solar energy has enormous potential to flourish in London". However, according to Jones, changes in subsidy schemes are now threatening their continued growth.
The government has recently announced reductions in subsidies to reduce possible future increases in bills. The first round of subsidies to be cut target solar farms between 1-5MW, which is bigger than most community energy schemes currently operating in London. However, proposed changes to the rules governing feed-in-tariffs, the price renewable energy schemes are paid for putting electricity into the grid, could impact future schemes in London. The policy changes currently under consideration could remove certainty of the price paid for renewable energy making it more difficult for community schemes to raise investment.
According to Alice Bell, from the 10:10 campaign for practical actions to stop climate change, "the proposed changes won't kill community energy, but the government looks set to hit the pause button". Alice points out that there are still opportunities for people to get involved in energy projects in their local London community, and to have their say on the issue in the consultation on the proposed policy changes.
Many community energy providers are members of Community Energy England. If you want to find local community energy projects planned or underway in your community you can check their membership list. Apart from Repowering, community energy projects in London include Community Renewable Energy Wandsworth, South East London Community Energy and Hoxton Community Energy. Projects are often looking for volunteers and supporters, so you can invest your time or money to make London's energy more renewable.