Egni Coop, Graint Thomas Velodrome, Newport Councl, largest solar roof in Wales,

Egni Coop’s Welsh Community Solar Programme

Egni Coop and Joju Solar have developed and installed the most ambitious community solar scheme in Wales, including the largest single community solar rooftop at Newport’s Geraint Thomas velodrome. It’s quite a story – here’s how we did it.

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Salisbury Cathedral, solar, spire

The Salisbury Cathedral Solar Roof

How did a small local community energy group end up building one of the most iconic renewable energy projects in the UK?  Well, it turns out dedication, perseverance, and a little good fortune are all you need.

Salisbury Community Energy

Salisbury Community Energy is a relatively new community energy group.  They were formed in 2017 by a group of Salisbury residents who were trying to address climate change within their local area.  Director Caroline Lanyon explains “When we started we had a simple question: how can we get more renewable energy in Salisbury?”

From small beginnings …

In their early years, Salisbury Community Energy looked at a wide range of possible projects, and all possible renewable energy technologies.  They finally settled on developing a solar power portfolio, as potential hydropower schemes on rivers in the City looked complex due to Environment Agency concerns about the flood plain, and potential opposition from local anglers.

The group started scoping out a portfolio of solar PV projects in Salisbury, mainly on local schools, but with other large community buildings also considered.

Solar on Salisbury Cathedral?

Almost inevitably, someone suggested that the group should approach Salisbury Cathedral about the possibility of installing solar panels there.  However, the group didn’t expect much of a response.  “Local environmental groups had been pushing for the development of a solar array on the Cathedral since the 1990s”, said Caroline “But they’d always been refused”.

But as a new group, Salisbury Community Energy thought it was worth a shot, and they decided to try the door one last time.  To their surprise, it opened!

The Planning Process for Solar on churches

Canon Treasurer Robert Titley from Salisbury Cathedral was instrumental in making the scheme happen. As a local community group, Salisbury Community Energy found a receptive ear as Robert was already implementing a range of green initiatives across the Cathedral, including draft-proofing the medieval building, moving to a green tariff energy and installing LED lighting.  His faith and environmental vision went hand in hand.  “We are called to preach good news, and through this we are taking another small step toward being good news for God’s earth and not just part of the problem”.  Solar panels were an obvious next step, and the idea of a high-profile project appealed.  “It’s important to send a message to the rest of the city”, he added.

At around the same time, the Rt Rev Nicholas Holtam, Bishop of Salisbury was appointed the Church of England’s lead bishop for the environment.  He has recently signed a letter to the Government asking for the environment to be part of its post-COVID-19 plans.  He was naturally fully supportive of the idea of putting solar panels on the Cathedral.

However, before the project could happen, the proposal needed to pass through ecclesiastical planning.  Town planning rules cover development on most churches and local council planning departments adjudicate on them.  But as a Cathedral, especially a unique historical one, the proposals had to pass the scrutiny of church bodies instead.  As one might imagine, it is not an easy process to pass through the many internal committees.  They are very stringent, and rightly so – they do, after all, have a duty to protect these buildings of national importance.

Eventually, the scheme was approved, subject to specific design criteria being met:

  • The panels must not be visible from the ground, or higher ground in the Salisbury area
  • There must be no drilling into the historic structure of the building
  • There must be no damage to the lead roof covering

But just as the project was gaining traction – a new hurdle appeared.  The Government planned to remove feed-in tariffs in April 2019, leaving just months to get this project, and other schools in the portfolio pre-accredited.

The Salisbury Cathedral solar design team

Salisbury Community Energy approached Energy4All’s Schools’ Energy Coop for advice.  They had years of experience in pre-accrediting community energy sites. They agreed to help with early project development stages, such as gaining EPC certificates.  They also managed the financial raise for the scheme when it went eventually ahead.

And this is where Joju Solar joined the team!  As the long-term installation partners for the Schools’ Energy Coop, we were asked to come up with a design that met the ecclesiastic planning committees stringent design requirements.

The project team chose the cloister area for the solar panels. The panels are not visible from the ground, and there is a parapet wall surrounding them.  This helps keep the panels hidden from view but does give local shading issues.  The church left some dummy panels on top of the cloister roof for several months before the build to see if these would be visible from the surrounding area.  It turns out they weren’t!

Because no direct fixings were possible, we decided to use panels mounted on a ballasted frame.  As a roofing material, lead is quite unique in that it is soft, and it moves around a lot as it expands and contracts in the sun.  Clamping on to the ‘broom handle seams’ is not a possibility as it would soon cause a hole around the fixing points.

Joju decided to work with solar mounting system specialists Sunfixings on this project.  Sunfixings have extensive experience in designing solar PV mounting systems for lead roofs and were an obvious technology partner for this project.  The roof has a stepped surface, and is generally a little uneven and not quite straight (it turns out our laser lines are more accurate than 800 years old craftsmanship).  The design team settled on a fully adjustable frame to ensure there was good contact at the right places over the surface of the roof.

It’s not just the panels; of course, there is also the wiring to consider.  The cables were collected under the array, then ran in a discretely positioned basket tray, on rubber feet, following the line of the roof.  The wires ran to the new café and gift shop section, which as a modern extension meant we could finally drill a hole to get the cables to the inverter and consumer unit inside.

Salisbury Cathedral’s Solar Roof

The solar array was finally built on the Cathedral in July 2020, as soon as we were able to come out of lockdown safely.  The system features 37kW of high-efficiency Sunpower 400W modules.

The system was formally opened by The Bishop of Salisbury.  His words, perhaps best sum up the scheme:  “The Church of England is working hard towards a Net Zero carbon footprint by 2030. I am delighted that Salisbury Cathedral is making a contribution that takes us towards this. With clear purpose and helpful partnerships even iconic buildings can make a difference towards sustainability. In these strange times the possibilities of living differently seem all the more important and this project even more significant.”

So, was this iconic project all just a stroke of good luck?  Did it only get built because the community group approached clergy who happened to be passionate about the environment? And then chanced to meet other partners to help with the financial raise, project development, design, and build?

Or maybe we all make our own luck, and the more we try to make our visions a reality, the more likely we are to find others who feel the same way. And then great things can happen. We like to think so, and we expect to see more historic buildings sensitively incorporating solar over the coming years.

 

All photos by the sublime Ash Mills.

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solar roof tiles, integrated solar, BIPV, ThamesWey

ThamesWey’s Innovative Battery Microgrid

ThamesWey has recently installed an innovative solar/battery microgrid at a housing estate in Woking.  ThamesWey are a private company, owned by Woking Borough Council, set up to drive carbon reductions and the wider sustainability agenda in the Borough.  They own and manage over 600 properties in support of the Council’s Housing Strategy. ThamesWey offer a range of private rental properties including homes at more affordable rents and key worker accommodation.   ThamesWey have a long history in the solar energy sector; back in the 2000’s, and long before feed-in tariffs were established, they were the leading institution installing solar panels in the UK.  They installed their first solar panels back in 2001, and had installed over 5000 solar panels by 2012.

“It’s in our business plan to trial new technologies, so we wanted to run a demonstrator of centralised battery storage”, explains Rachel Lambert, ThamesWey’s Environmental Projects Manager.  “We wanted to find a solution that saved carbon, whilst simultaneously offering a strong economic case.  At the current state of technology, that required a highly innovative project”.

A Microgrid Serving 14 homes

The site chosen was a group of 14 homes, which already had solar PV installed as integrated solar roof tiles on 12 of the properties since 2010.  ThamesWey built the properties to code 5 of the former Code for Sustainable Homes , and designed them to run off their own private wire network.  ThamesWey import electricity into a substation, and then distribute  this electricity on to the connected homes.

“We came up with a concept of installing batteries at the substation as part of our own microgrid”, said Sam Pepper, Environmental Projects Officer.  “The idea was to capture the excess solar electricity that was being produced during the day, and to use this to benefit all the homes on the network, including those without  solar”.

Developing a microgrid with batteries

ThamesWey asked Joju Solar to help design and implement the scheme.  We undertook extensive modelling of the site, looking at ½ hourly usage and generation across the homes, and predicting what would happen if batteries were incorporated.

This was also a full financial model. ThamesWey buy in electricity that is priced every ½ hour on a real time tariff.  As a ‘commercial’ user, ThamesWey also incur high additional charges of 8p/kWh (called DUoS charges) at peak times between 4pm and 7pm every weekday.  We looked at the savings possible for a variety of battery models and operational regimes.

We settled on the installation of 3 x Tesla Powerwalls for a number of reasons:

  • Tesla offer the cheapest storage per kWh of battery capacity
  • Using 3 Powerwalls allows 40.2 kWh of electricity to be stored.
  • The 3 Powerwalls can supply 15kW of instantaneous power, allowing the aggregated load of the homes to be fully covered for most of the year
  • The Tesla Powerwall can be set up to import cheap, cleaner, night time electricity in winter months, adding additional savings when there isn’t excess solar available
  • The Tesla Powerwall can be set up to preferentially discharge when electricity prices are high to maximise savings – in this case during the peak DUoS periods of weekday evenings. By eliminating consumption across the 14 homes in the peak period, DUoS charges become zero.
  • An additional benefit of load shifting out of the peak period is that this is also when the grid is the dirtiest in terms of utilising fossil fuels.

Overall the scheme offers the best economics we have seen for behind the meter batteries, with a full return on investment within the 10 year warrantied lifetime of the Tesla Powerwall.

This centralised approach is approximately 5 times cheaper than the alternative of installing a battery in each home, showing the advantage of deploying batteries into a microgrid.

Installing a battery Microgrid

Joju installed the batteries at the substation over a 3-day period.  The only issue faced with the installation was making the final connection between the batteries and the supply in the substation, which needed to be switched off to manage the works safely.  Homeowners were informed in advance by letter that their supply would be briefly interrupted on the final day, and the necessary connection was made within 15 minutes.

Batteries for Sites with Landlord’s Supply

The ThamesWey project is a clear demonstrator of the strong economic case for batteries within a microgrid context.  At first glance it might seem that this kind of site is fairly unique, but the same approach can be adopted wherever there is a landlord’s electricity supply in place – most commonly in blocks of flats.  Any situation where the landlord buys electricity into a building (or site), and then sells on electricity to tenants, can benefit from battery storage behind the landlords meter (but in front of the tenants).  It’s a model Joju Solar are now rolling out at numerous sites across the country.

Mark Rolt, ThamesWey’s Chief Executive Officer concludes “We were delighted to work with Joju Solar to install these batteries at our substation as part of an innovative trial of a centralised battery. The associated carbon savings from maximising the use of energy generated from a renewable energy technology supports our founding commitment to reduce carbon emissions in the Borough.”

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On the grounds of Chilworth Manor

In Autumn 2011 Joju installed a 196 panel ground mounted solar system in the grounds of grade II listed Chilworth Manor, Surrey.

Background

Chilworth Manor is a historic country house located in Surrey. The manor, itself, is grade II listed by English Heritage. In 2011 Joju were commissioned to install a ground mounted solar array.

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Pepsi turns Copella Green

PepsiCo install solar at their Copella Juice factory

Background

Corporate Responsibility is a key focus and a point of competitive advantage for many companies. Over the last twenty years multi-nationals have implemented more and more creative ways to lower their environmental impact, decrease their carbon footprint and demonstrate themselves as more socially responsible citizens. One of the simplest and quickest ways and wins for companies has been to look at ways of improving the efficiency of their own buildings and operations.

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Marks and Spencer – Community Energy Scheme

Background

Historically, community energy initiatives have fallen into two categories, depending on where they draw their members from. Investors come from either the local area where the project is located or where the community is geographically scattered are made up of people with a shared passion. However, we’re proud to have helped M&S develop a new type of community energy scheme – where a corporate institution engages the community energy approach to finance renewable schemes.

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Prodrive to the moon and back


The largest community-owned roof mounted solar array in the UK

Background

Prodrive is a world leading motorsport and technology business. They are best known for motorsport, but they are now a technology business working in a range of sectors with operations in Banbury and Milton Keynes employing more than 500 staff.

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Aldi Supermarket Botley Road, Oxford

Aldi Supermarket Oxford improves sustainability reputation with PV installation

Aldi Supermarket’s have a strong reputation for corporate social responsibility, therefore, asking Joju to install a solar PV system demonstrated their commitment to sustainability and improving the environmental performance of their operations and buildings.

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Norbar Tools

Norbar Tools get tooled up with Solar PV

Challenge

To scope, survey, design, supply and install solar panels for the Norbar Tools factory in Banbury, Oxfordshire. The project involved a very tight timescale of only five weeks from contract signature to full commission in order to meet the Feed-in Tariff deadline. This was also a community-funded project by the Low Carbon Hub with no upfront costs to Norbar Tools.

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Oxford Bus Company

Pioneering joint Solar PV venture between Oxford Bus Company and the Low Carbon Hub.

In 2013, Joju installed a 143 kWp system on the roof of the Oxford Bus Company.  The system was funded by a community share offer, run by the Low Carbon Hub. It was a pioneering project run by a community group working alongside a major local business.

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