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Bristol discovers how to energise citizens about community energy

Low-income residents are getting free solar PV installations upon joining Bristol Power Co-op (UK), who have gained recognition across Europe for their pioneering work. The co-op’s chair David Saunders said: “It would be easy selling ‘free’ solar energy to greenies. The challenge was to see if we could persuade people in an area of social disadvantage to go for it”.

The pilot project took place in Lockleaze, an area of social deprivation in Bristol with 4,000 homes and 11,000 residents. Bristol Power Co-op used traditional methods of community engagement, knocking on doors and holding public meetings, as well as social and online media to mobilise householders. Despite initial skepticism, these efforts soon paid off, with residents warming to the project - especially when they realised that their energy bills would be 40% lower and that all they needed to do was allow PVs to be installed on their roofs. Watch the video below from the first householders to be involved in the project.

The community power movement in the UK is socially and politically engaged – according to Saunders: “We see solar energy as a high-tech revolution that will reduce the cost of energy forever. This is the perfect opportunity for communities and individuals to bypass and potentially eliminate the commercial utilities, in the same way that personal computing eliminated the old mainframe computers.”

The UK provides a subsidy for solar energy in the form of afeed-in tariff. The co-operative raises capital from share issues to pay for the panels, gives householders the electricity for free, and repays the loan with the feed-in tariff payments. When feed-in tariffs end, the co-op aims to have costs low enough to finance the solar by selling householders electricity from their roofs at about half retail price and collecting loan payments via their retail electricity supplier.

The Mayor of Bristol, George Ferguson, commented: “Bristol Power demonstrates what can be done when a whole community pulls together to show what sustainability means in practice. They are doing an excellent job of spreading the word about how people can become involved in the real solar future that’s now within reach for our city.”

Last month Bristol Power received EUR 120 000 community loan from business-led charity Pure Leapfrog. Robert Rabinowitz, the business-led charity’s CEO explained why the company chose to support the Bristol Power Co-op: Pure Leapfrog is pleased to be able to support the growth of Bristol Power Co-op into a self-sustaining social enterprise. We see this loan as a model for how our loans can help similar companies across the country to leverage their existing assets to achieve more environmental and social impact.”

The loan will enable installation of solar PV on 25 more homes. The co-op is set to expand rapidly, as Saunders explains: “We’re planning our second community share issue for £500,000 to scale up to up to 125-250 roofs – we expect to double in size twice a year at least for a few years. By 2016-2017 we should be cranking!”



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