London’s energy co-ops surge, in quest of Mayor’s 1 GWp of solar by 2030


Influential volunteer-led co-operatives are punching above their weight in bringing citizen-controlled renewable power, overwhelmingly solar PV, to Britain’s capital city, a conference hosted online by Community Energy London heard this morning.

An estimated 100-plus projects across the capital run by around 30 London community benefit societies now result in 2.36 MWp of PV generating atop schools, community centres and other – mainly public – buildings, CEL chair Syed Ahmed told co-operative clean energy activists.

That total is part of 70 MWp of solar capacity now on all London roofs, as estimated by the GLA and trade sources. The Mayor’s Solar Action Plan aims for 1 GWp of the technology on London’s roofs by 2030.

Only around 30,000 dwellings – or 1% of homes –  have solar in the capital.  Its transitory, young population, high share of leasehold-only renters, small, congested roofs and pockets of poverty mitigate against the technology, hindered further by England’s laws on who has power to alter buildings’ exteriors.

But community projects funded by groupings of local, energised individuals are raising both ambitions and bigger sums to start, attenders heard.

One is Brent Pure Energy. The co-op raised £1.3 million from members to light this April a massive 800-panel, 300 kWp system on Willesden’s Capital City Academy, saving 10% on the school’s spend on its 2.6 GWh annual consumption, and assisted by the latest, fifth phase of the London Community Energy Fund.

Pictured are members & trainees of Energy Garden London.

Sweet spot for community solar

Partnering first with councils, and now with owners of previously unviable commercial roofs, should be key goals for co-ops in the capital and nationwide, recommended Dr Chris Jardine, of London installers Joju Solar, responsible for 250 solar schools across the UK, and a prestige 35kWp of equipment on Salisbury Cathedral.

“Co-ops and solar are both in a very sweet spot now, and the rise in retail tariffs for conventional energy has opened up conversations with commercial property owners not worth having even a couple of years ago”, Jardine told CEL members.

Payback periods for PV now on warehouse-sized roofs could be as short as two or three years, he said, a figure squarely within the investment horizons of property owners.  Commercial tariffs for bought electricity surging as high as 40 pence/kWh and in one case 100 pence/kWh, made solar ever more attractive.

Amid eye-watering rises in commercial tariffs for homes, Jardine argued a strong moral case exists for socially-directed co-ops to maximise projects’ returns to their community benefit funds.  These fund a variety of free services, including advice surgeries to consumers falling into energy poverty.

Estimates of benchmark unit costs for installation were presented by analyst Kevin McCann of trade body Solar Energy UK, based on national values from the government’s MCS standards body, which last reported in April.

Within fluctuations caused by labour and & component shortages now affecting solar PV’s subsidy-free boom, McCann pinpointed upfront costs ranging now as low as :

  • £720 per kWp installed on large commercial roofs,
  • between £800 to £1,000 per kWp on school-sized roofs smaller than 50 kWh, and
  • £1,600 per kWp on small home-sized systems. All figures before VAT & financing costs.

Another attender, with more than a decade’s experience of delivering community energy projects, demurred, judging current prices particularly for primary school-sized projects, were costing around £1,250/Kwp on a unit capex basis.

SEUK’s McCann was at pains to stress that the six-month old data would have been superceded by current conditions.   Direct quotations from MCS-accredited installers were co-ops’ and roof owners’ best option for up-to-date figures, he urged.

Speakers repeatedly stressed the importance of the London Community Energy Fund in getting community solar projects lit, particularly on social housing and in poorer areas of the capital. Launched in June 2020, the LCEF is City Hall’s replacement for a nationwide grant-making scheme to support community projects, scrapped in 2015 under David Cameron.

Also welcomed by attenders is the LCEF’s replication by three boroughs including Hackney, together pledging £1 million every year to community solar.

Think bigger, and reach beyond your comfort zone

Borough officers are working on a Renewable Power for London Action plan, led by Islington, with assistance from Southwark & Hackney, CEL chair Ahmed revealed. It next reports this autumn.

Thinking bigger to reap scale economies in launching projects & their financing, plus energetically partnering with London’s 33 boroughs and with owners of big commercial roofs, emerged as two success-grabbing themes for the capital’s 30 or so active community energy groups.

Community Energy London is holding two more ‘open house’ seminars on renewable opportunities for London’s citizens and co-ops. One will be in October’s third week, followed by another early November on low carbon heat, including heat networks and pumps. More information here.


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