The RSPB, the UK charity working to secure a healthy environment for birds and wildlife,has installed four PV systems at different locations across the UK, with two more installations planned. The charity has also launched its own ‘Going Solar’ scheme with Solarcentury, to help members to invest in renewable energy themselves.

RSPB Energy is a green tariff, set up with Scottish & Southern Energy, which is now used to power all RSPB sites. For each customer that signs up to the tariff, the RSPB receives £20 (£10 for electricity and £10 for gas), and an additional £10 is contributed for every year each customer remains with the scheme. These funds are used to acquire and manage land for nature reserves, which provide a future for wildlife endangered by the effects of climate change. In addition, for every 10 RSPB Energy customers, the scheme will generate enough additional renewable energy to supply the equivalent of all the electricity needs of an average home. There are currently 13,600 RSPB Energy electricity customers.

The RSPB Going Solar Energy Saving Trust PV grant, includes:

• Options to buy both PV panels and solar water heating;

• A solar loan from the Co-Operative Bank;

• The opportunity to sell excess electricity to RSPB Energy.

The Climate Change Policy Team identified a series of locations that they deemed suitable for a PV installation, and checked their choices with solarcentury. They wanted to install the systems at sites with high visitor numbers to make the most of the demonstration aspect of the project. For this reason, they also wanted the systems to be domestic-scale.

The plan was to get all the systems installed at the same time, but in reality the four installations took place over about nine months. Unfortunately, planning permission was denied at a fifth site identified by the RSPB – the visitor reception to the nature reserve at their head offices.

“It was a surprise that we needed to get planning permission at all, especially as some of the sites are so out of the way,” says Olly Watts, of the RSPB’s Climate Change Policy Team, “and obviously it’s been very disappointing that it has not been granted at our head office site. There seems to be little consistency between different Planning Offices.” The various Building Control Offices also seemed to have different needs, and the RSPB found it frustrating that their inspection requirements didn’t dovetail with other requirements presented by the PV Grant Scheme.

Although the project was overseen by the Climate Change Policy Team, each local office took responsibility for their installation and liaised directly with solarcentury. As part of the demonstration project, each site has a feature display showing visitors the current amount of energy being generated, the total amount of energy that has been generated so far, and the total amount of carbon dioxide saved. Each of the PV systems is connected to the grid, involving four different Distribution Network Operators. They take advantage of the net-metering service offered through Going Solar, although RSPB expects to use most of the electricity generated on site.

“Having these four PV systems installed has helped considerably to raise the profile of renewable energy within the RSPB,” says Dr Watts.

“Expectations have been raised and, although cost is of concern, PV is now being considered for other new build and refurbishment projects.”

“Our members have been encouragingly interested in Going Solar and the practical issues of climate change,” says Dr Watts, “and see it as a way of leaving a legacy for future generations. The public attitude to our work in this field has been really heartening – we’re really glad we did it!”

Source: Energy Savings Trust UK