In this guest blog Tom Shakhli, head of project success at the community fundraising platform, Spacehive, discusses trends within community-funded renewable projects as seen from its perspective, exploring motivations and remaining barriers for undertaking local renewable energy projects.

In the past, the concept of community crowdfunding was often associated with projects that needed maintenance – repairing leaky roofs, fixing ageing structures, replacing a youth group bus. While these examples remain important to community life, community crowdfunding has evolved into a dynamic force for change to not just address present concerns, but to future-proof community spaces and embrace sustainable solutions.

Sustainability-focussed projects are one of the fastest growing areas that we have seen from our communities. One of the most popular within this sector is the integration of solar technology representing a growing commitment to invest in sustainable energy solutions that promise long term benefits. 

In fact, we’ve seen a 300% increase in solar panel projects uploaded to our site in the last couple of years. There have been a huge number of community centres, leisure centres, schools and village halls that have applied for community crowdfunding to put solar panels on their roofs and install batteries to improve their energy supply and save money

Spacehive can act as a fascinating barometer of the nation’s reception to renewable solutions such as solar and small-scale battery storage, measuring the reasons for such a spike in renewable community projects.

Rise in energy costs

The rise in energy costs is one of the key reasons we’re seeing an increase in renewable energy projects. Many of these projects involve enormous buildings, so the cost to heat and run them can be considerably high. Solar panels, installed via a crowdfunding campaign, can generate energy saving costs over time, as evidenced from some of our projects this could provide savings of up to 50%. Depending on the system, there is also the opportunity to sell excess energy back to the grid, or store it for later use. These all create a more financially viable facility, which then means more funds can be freed up for more community facing activities and supplies.

An excellent example of this is the Jessie Hughes Village Hall in Eaton, Cheshire. After installing solar panels in March 2022, the volunteers at the hall wanted to get a battery storage system to help manage the excess energy produced by their solar array and so launched a community crowdfunding project with us, Cheshire West and Chester Council to achieve this.

Thus, in May 2023, a 9.2kWhr battery system to support the solar panels was installed which now enables the hall to store excess electricity for later use in the evening or the following day. The hall has already begun to reduce its running costs, the benefit of which is being felt even more during these winter months. 

Funding availability

 Spacehive has a number of partners, including the councils in Barnet, Hammersmith & Fulham, Cheshire West & Chester, as well as companies such as Veolia who have launched carbon reduction funds to support local ideas which contribute to net zero.

These funds form a significant percentage of the crowdfunding target, so make it easier for communities to fundraise for the remaining costs for their renewable energy projects. Additionally, knowing that there is access to these funds gives community groups confidence to move forward, and creates excitement in the collaborative nature of different groups and organisations coming together to support local ideas. It’s also a great way for partners to be part of grassroots innovation and actively support activity at a local level. 

Environmental/sustainability concerns

 Growing concerns about climate change has motivated people to make changes to their carbon footprint and energy consumption. Village halls, churches and schools can use significant amounts of energy, and so there is potential to reduce their carbon footprint by generating energy through solar power, as well as implementing other energy efficient measures in the buildings.

Tackling remaining barriers to community-funded renewable projects

Initially, it can be a little daunting for community spaces to raise funds for sustainable energy installations and there is a minefield of information making it tricky to sift through everything.

We also know that upfront cost can be a significant barrier, especially in the current economic climate. Community fundraising, with the additional backing of companies and councils, can help alleviate this. Another barrier is permissions and regulations – navigating through these can be worrisome and can take time, so it can be inspiring to see other successful renewable community project across the country. 

A great example of all of the above is the Fulham Good Neighbours volunteer group who wanted to install solar panels at its community hall. The hall is a vibrant meeting place for older and disabled adults, who rely on the venue for social and recreational activities, helping combat isolation and loneliness.

To save on rising energy costs the volunteers raised funding via Spacehive and London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham in 2022 to install solar panels.

Jamie Hilton, CEO at Fulham Good Neighbours said that the project could save the community hall even more than first forecast: “When we had the solar panels installed, we were projected to save £500 annually on our energy bills. We may well beat that as we have already seen our usage fall by 60% on last year.  We’re reinvesting the energy cost savings back into community projects”. 

The projects Spacehive works on illustrate that if people have access to funds and the resources they need to take agency over the places where they live, you will see incredible results as local people come together around a common goal to make their communities stronger and make a difference at a local level.