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.
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.
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 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?”
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.
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!
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:
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.
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.
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.
Whilst we have seen residential customers installing the complete set of solar PV, battery storage, and electric vehicle chargepoints, it’s something of a rarity at a larger scale. Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council, however, have just completed a £600k scheme installing electric vehicle charge points across the borough, combining this with solar PV and battery storage at some of the sites. Steve Brown, Transportation Officer, explains: “We’ve been very interested in the potential to replace our diesel/petrol fleet with electric vehicles to reduce carbon emissions and address air quality in the borough. But we were very aware that doing so would increase our electricity consumption, and nationally there’d be a problem generating the electricity. So we have looked to manage these knock-on effects ourselves by installing an equivalent amount of solar PV at the same time to offset this.” And it’s not just the amount of new electricity that was a concern: “We wanted to use batteries to store this sustainable energy for us to use when we needed it, rather than when it was available”
The flagship site in the programme is the Wellgate multi-storey car park, which features 5 dual Alfen Eve charge points, 87kW of solar PV and 3 Tesla Powerwall’s for storage. The solar PV was hosted in a unique way, on the top deck of the multi-storey. “It’s an odd feature of almost every multi-storey car park in the country that no-one parks on the top-deck”, says Steve. “They’re massively underutilised assets, so we took the decision to close the top deck and use this space for generating solar electricity.”
An additional five sites incorporated both solar PV and electric vehicle charge points. Hellaby Depot, Rawmarsh Library, Riverside House, Rother Valley Country Park, and Thrybergh Country Park host 17 dual charge points and 141 kW of solar PV.
Aston Health Centre, Drummond Street car park, Walker Street car park and Wath Library are also home to dual chargepoints, increasing the coverage of the public EV charging network in the Rotherham Metropolitan area.
“The main difficulty we had was whether the scheme would work at all”, said Steve. “There’s a certain amount of ‘If we build it, they will come’ when developing a chargepoint scheme. But Rotherham does not have the same level of per capita income as parts of southeastern England, and we didn’t know how quickly the community here will take up EVs, as they are still more expensive than petrol or diesel vehicles.”
Funding from the Government’s Clean Air Fund early measures programme provided the initiative to get the scheme off the ground, and Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council instructed Joju Solar to install the project, following a mini-tender through the ESPO Framework. Joju Solar are uniquely well placed to deliver schemes like this as we are one of the largest installers of Public Sector EV charge point programmes, as well as having decades of experience installing solar PV and battery storage.
“Our fears have been unfounded – the chargepoints are being widely used, and people are prepared to use charge points at outlying council offices and country parks. From our point of view, it’s worked extremely well”. The Council are seeing the solar PV generation being used on their own sites, reducing bills, and the battery storage is covering lighting requirements overnight.
Rotherham’s approach appears to be paying dividends, and there’s an appetite for more. “The whole system has been really well thought out – there’s chargers in the basement for staff and outside for public use. We’d like to do more of the same – perhaps in innovative locations like schools and colleges as well”.
Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council’s pioneering scheme is a strong example to other councils, particularly in the way that they have looked at the larger energy picture. Electrifying transport will inherently increase demand for electricity, and it shows a truly holistic approach to sustainability to consider how this will be provided as part of one installation programme.
Reading University have just completed the installation of 168 kW of solar PV across their main campus, and due to a peculiarity of the site, have installed this subsidy free – that is to say without the use of any feed-in tariff support. Extensions to solar PV systems do not qualify for feed-in tariffs, and with the whole of the campus on one supply, any new PV systems do not qualify for support due to the presence of an existing array on site. That left Reading University with a choice – install PV without subsidy, or not to install at all.
Reading University did indeed install, as the economic case for them was still strong. As such, this project forms an exemplar for future commercial solar installations once the feed-in tariff is removed in April 2019.
The scheme focussed on 2 building on the main campus. The Edith Morley building is the largest building on site, and centrally located. At 124 kW, this gave good economics due to its scale, and also acted as a very public statement of the University’s drive towards a low carbon campus.
The second building – the Wager building – offered a different opportunity. The roof was being replaced, and so it made sense to install 44 kW solar PV at the same time as these other roof-works. With scaffolding typically making up 10% of the cost of a commercial solar installation, there is an immediate cost saving for running the 2 works concurrently. Again, this is a good guide for those considering solar PV projects in a subsidy free environment– cost savings from sharing scaffolding like this can offset the lack of feed-in tariff income.
Reading University have an ambitious carbon reduction programme of 45% by 2021, and are already ahead of target. However, the simpler measures, typically energy efficiency, have already been carried out. By addressing the ‘low-hanging fruit’ in early years, solar PV now makes increasing sense as one of the next set of measures. It’s a very good technology for a 2nd wave of energy retrofits, as deep carbon reductions require moving beyond energy efficiency and looking at generation technologies as well.
The Edith Morley Building, for example, gave rates of return on investment of 12% even without feed-in tariffs, which equates to an eight year payback. Reading University considered this a financially attractive option for meeting their carbon targets.
The most complex aspect of the project was coordinating the works on site. All roof works had to be completed in the summer holidays, and the PV had to follow after the re-roofing works were complete. This required careful and flexible project management in order to take advantage of the opportunity. Reading University have indicated that when they are reroofing other buildings they will look to incorporate solar at the same time.
This approach of sharing scaffolding costs across 2 pieces of roof work is something Joju Solar are very experienced at, and one we commonly use in our work on solar schools.
The Reading University project is an exemplar for solar PV projects operating without any form of subsidy – and where the benefits of the PV come solely from reducing the bills on site. The project provides pointers to what makes a successful solar project, namely:
Comic actor and TV presenter Robert Llewellyn is a passionate proponent of new energy technologies. He runs a Youtube channel, called Fully Charged, looking not just at electric vehicles, but also the way in which that electricity is generated from renewable sources. If you’re not following it, we thoroughly recommend you do – it really is the best source of news about new energy technologies out there, and puts mainstream media to shame!
Robert Llewellyn has had solar PV on the roof of his house in the Cotswold for some years, but has increasingly felt he could do more. “I’ve had solar since 2011 and as soon as you have it, you want a battery. In theory it makes so much sense and for once in life the practice proves the point”
Robert is of course, also passionate about his electric vehicles, which also need charging at home. Our brief, therefore was to boost his solar generation, utilise a greater percentage of the solar electricity on site and use any excess to charge his cars.
We upgraded Roberts existing solar PV system of 2.5kW conventional modules to 16 high efficiency Sunpower 327 modules, totalling 5.23kW. These high efficiency modules (over 21%) have doubled the generation from his roof space.
In order to use more electricity onsite, we installed one of the first Powerwall2 battery systems in the country. This Tesla solar battery unit is much larger than conventional battery units holding an impressive 13.4kWh of energy. This greater battery capacity matches to the larger PV system – anything smaller would fill up too quickly.
The system works by using excess solar electricity to charge the Powerwall2 during the day. It discharges in the evening to loads in the house, but by midnight, we do not expect the battery to be empty. It is at this point that the Powerwall2 discharges into Robert’s car batteries. The car batteries then fill any remainder with cheaper night-time tariff electricity.
This approach is perfect as the battery is completely empty the next morning ready to capture the maximum possible solar energy through the day.
It is slightly unconventional to do charge a battery (Powerwall2) and then discharge it into another battery (vehicles), and thermodynamically this might not seem sensible. It is, however, the best thing to do economically. Robert uses his free solar electricity first, then cheap night-time electricity, with any remaining (on poor days in winter) coming at standard day rates.
Early results seem very promising: “I’ve had the system running for 2 days and my mains electricity usage has reduced by 95%. Okay, it’s summer, it’s sunny, and over the year I’m sure it won’t manage that, but it’s obvious it will reduce our overall demand on the grid by a substantial amount and utilise far more of the power the panels produce.”
We think this is a perfect exemplar of integrating solar generation, storage technologies and electric vehicle charging. It is complex, from an engineering standpoint, as we have to balance PV capacity, battery storage capacity, loads in the house and electric vehicle loads, but we look to have found an optimal solution. The home of the future is increasingly going to incorporate all these technologies operating in combination.
“Joju Solar have been patient and supportive throughout the install of my new solar array and Powerwall 2 battery system. They needed to be patient due to my constant faltering, budget anxiety and ridiculous schedule. They fitted the battery in a day, wired it up, stayed longer than expected to make sure it was all working, left the place spotlessly tidy and did a very fine job.” – Robert Llewellyn
Good things come in threes for this commercial battery storage system
Repower Balcombe is a community energy group founded as a positive response to threats of fracking in the area. The group have funded solar PV on 4 schools in the area, including this one at Turners Hill Primary which was installed by Joju in 2015. With their community benefit fund from existing sites bearing fruit, they decided to set up a battery storage project to understand this new technology better.
The challenge for Joju Solar was to design and specify a battery storage system that maximises the benefits to the host school.
The school is typical of a small commercial battery storage system, which has very different characterisitcs to domestic battery systems. The electricity supply to the school is 3-phase, so we needed to install storage across all three phases. With 3-phase batteries of this scale not available in the UK as present, we installed 3 separate battery systems, each dealing with the load and generation on that phase. You can see the three individual storage units, manufactured by Sonnen, in the photos. Technically the greatest challenge related to the battery’s monitoring – it needs to monitor the extent of import and export from the school and the generation from the solar PV. The PV system was some 20 meters from the battery installation so we needed to run long monitoring cables as part of the works.
The system operates under a regime where excess solar generation is captured during the day, and used to run the school in the evenings and through the night. We gathered half-hourly electricity demand data from the school, and undertook a comprehensive modelling exercise to determine the optimal battery size. In order to meet the evening and night-time demand, we settled on a storage capacity of 4kWh per phase.
The graph (left) shows that we have sized the system almost perfectly. The purple line shows the energy stored in the battery. The solar charges it up to full capacity in the morning, where it remains until early evening. Once demand is no longer met by solar, the battery discharges to meet demand on site. It’s empty again just a matter of minutes before the sun comes up and starts charging it again! Electricity imported from the grid, shown in pale blue is virtually non-existent; the school is running on its own solar generated electricity.
The installation took place at Turners Hill School in Turners Hill village in Sussex. Joju Solar installed 3 x Sonnen Eco 8 4kWh batteries in just 2 days at the site.
The system is meeting the school’s needs for electricity in the spring/summer/autumn months. However, it should be noted that in winter there will not be sufficient surplus electricity to charge up the batteries and the system will remain dormant at this time.
For this reason, paybacks for this battery system are long, and in excess of the battery lifetime. Repower Balcombe were able to fund this project as they already had surplus funds generated for good causes such as this (i.e. saving the school money)
However, do not despair! Our modelling shows that there are other ways of operating commercial battery storage systems in commercial premises that does give paybacks shorter than the battery lifetime, especially with the good economics of the Tesla Powerwall2 battery. If you’d like to see how this could work for you, then do get in touch with our batteries and smart grids team.
In Autumn 2011 Joju installed a 196 panel ground mounted solar system in the grounds of grade II listed Chilworth Manor, Surrey.
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.
PepsiCo install solar at their Copella Juice factory
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.
The first crowd-funded solar project at a higher education institution was installed at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS)
After crowdsourcing funds combined with university investment Solar SOAS, a project led by student group The Energy and Climate Justice Student Society, successfully raised the funds needed for a 29.6kWp system to be installed at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). This was the first student-led crowdfunded project of its type and Joju were delighted to be involved. We pride ourselves on pioneering solar PV and community funded projects and this was yet another example of a solar first for Joju.
The SOAS community will decide how to spend the profits generated from the system (estimated to be £2000 a year) with a voting process to be opened each year to determine what green project or cause will be selected over the lifetime of the scheme.
Joju installed an East to West solar PV array with a Solis inverter in September 2016. It is a 29.6kW system which will generate 24.15 MWh per year for SOAS. It consists of 114 260W Amerisolar panels all attached to a K2 frame. The University has it’s own mini electricity grid with equipment, which while stunning in its antiquity was also listed so provided a unique challenge for us to incorporate a modern, high-tech solar PV system in to (see the picture).
This project was extremely unique, Joju Head of Engineering James Page said “What made this project really special was the fact it happened because of the combined forces of an enthusiastic bunch of students who kicked the thing off, all supported by accommodating staff: with just one or the other it wouldn’t have happened.”
The project also gained political support from Keir Starmer, local MP for Holborn & St. Pancras. He said he was “absolutely thrilled to see the first university community energy project in the UK happening in our constituency. We hope this will lead the way for further similar projects around the country!”
The installation demonstrate SOAS’s continual efforts to reduce its carbon footprint, with the installation thought to save over 10 tonnes of carbon every year, therefore, building on its success as a green institution. In 2016 SOAS topped the Brite-Green university league table with a 55% reduction in carbon emissions since 2005. SOAS have also been awarded the Carbon Champion mark of achievement by the Camden Climate Change Alliance.
Solar SOAS is hoping that they will act as a pilot for other UK universities and even set up UniSolar, a community benefit society to administer and introduce community energy to other higher education establishments. They also plan to build on the success of this project, with other solar installations.
Isobel Annan, co-founder of Solar SOAS said: “We overcame many obstacles and met some hair-raising deadlines over the past two years, as full-time students and alumni endeavouring to do something green and good in a challenging policy environment. But we are live and generating, and ecstatic to see those shining panels.”
Baroness Valerie Amos CH, Director of SOAS said: “I am always impressed by the commitment of SOAS students to engage with the pressing issues facing our world today. Solar SOAS is an excellent example of our students taking a constructive and positive approach to tackling one of the great challenges of our time – climate change.”
Brighton and Hove City Council commits to tackling both poverty and climate change
Government-imposed budget cuts, inner-city poverty and adaptation to climate change is a triptych of problems that face UK city councils. Brighton & Hove City Council is committed to tackling all three issues one way it has found to address all them is by investing in solar panels for its social housing stock.
Solar PV is a triple win for social housing landlords: it means reduced electricity bills for tenants, reductions in carbon emissions and a reliable income source for 20 years. A triple win that directly combats the triple issue problem that councils are facing.
In 2015 Cllr Bill Randall, the council’s Chair of Housing, said about Brighton’s actions: “We’ve made great progress installing solar panels on our estates. We also sell the surplus energy we’re generating back to the grid and this money goes back into the city’s housing services.”
“£1.55 million is to be invested into solar photovoltaic (PV) panels for council housing over the next financial year,” he added. “Plans are in hand to bring forward the money earmarked for 2015/16 for a further 300 houses and 10 sheltered schemes. Beyond that, we hope to bring solar panels to further 1,000 homes.”
Joju Solar designed and installed the Brighton solar project. Installations were completed on more than 200 homes, with system sizes varying between 2 and 3 kWp based on the available roof space. A total capacity of 980 kWp was installed during the project.
During the project improved supply chain logistics to allow for the smooth development of five installations per day per Joju team which helped to streamline the process and improve the efficiency of the whole project ensuring that Joju delivered the project at the best cost possible to the council.
What the residents said
After solar panels were installed on her house in Manor Way, Gwendoline Walls said: “It’s the best thing ever. I really can’t praise it enough. I cooked a meal on my electric cooker, ran the washing machine and dryer, and it only cost me 21p. It’s amazing. I can really see the difference in my bills. Plus they actually look pretty nice on the roof.”
Another resident, in Pulborough Close, said: “No troubles, no hold-ups – it was very easy. The installers were very friendly. The installation was neatly done, with nothing disturbed in the house. We’ve had no problems at all with the system. Plain sailing. We’re very happy with it.”
On any project one of Joju’s main goals is to help residents save on energy bills. We have been part of many social housing projects, and every single one is still special to us, as it brings us all nearer to a low carbon way of living.