Greg Barker, the Minister for Energy and Climate Change has spoke of his desire to see more community-funded solar projects across the country after visiting one of the first schools in the UK to generate its own electricity from a community-funded solar project.
Visiting the Cherwell School in Oxford, Barker said: “The way to get a wider up take of solar is through community schemes, we want community energy groups to flourish.”
The school benefits from a 46kWp array fitted by solar installer Joju Solar. The 230-module strong installation is expected to provide up to a quarter of the school’s total energy needs. However, the installation is not just about saving money; Cherwell School also boasts 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, allowing students to analyse 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
The installation of the solar array at Cherwell School was made possible by the newly-formed community benefit society, the Oxford North Community Renewables Project (Oncore). Oncore was able to raise the necessary £160,000 by inviting locals to invest in share offers, ranging from £250 to £10,000. The community scheme hit its target in a matter of weeks.
Barker explained that he hoped 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.
Barker’s department has been criticised by those looking to operate community schemes after a raft of fast-track changes to the feed-in tariff saw a whole host of projects cancelled. The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) are currently considering responses to a consultation that explicitly invited responses to how community-owned projects should operate under the feed-in tariff. The department is expected to announce the results this summer.
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.”