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Tag Archives: solar co-ops

Grass roots renewable innovation

By Dave Elliott

It is sometimes argued that small-scale community-based experiments with green energy projects can lead to new ideas and practices that can be spread widely – pioneering technological and social innovation. The ‘bottom-up’ grass roots approach has certainly been successful in the past.  (more…)

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Community energy

By Dave Elliott

In Germany only about 13% of the country’s 70 GW or so of renewable energy generation capacity is now owned by big energy companies. The rest is owned by households, communities, development trusts and farmers. The Feed-In Tariff system has allowed many individuals to become direct owners of PV projects, and in parallel, there has been a growth in local community run co-operatively-owned renewable energy projects in villages and towns around the country. Around 50% of green energy output is being generated by community-based projects. Over 940 energy co-ops have emerged, with more than 100 rural communities becoming 100% renewable energy based. (more…)

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Community Heat and Power

Local community initiated and run renewable energy projects seem to be catching on around the EU. Wind co-ops have been very common in Denmark for many years- about 80% of the wind generation capacity is locally owned. It seems to be one reason why local opposition to wind is much lower than in the UK, where there are very few locally owned projects. As the Danes say ‘ your own pigs don’t smell’.

It’s similar in Germany where many projects are locally owned. A comparative study conducted in Germany by researchers from the University of Amsterdam concluded that the social acceptance of wind power is very high in general, and even higher when community members are directly involved. 62% of the residents near a community owned wind farm expressed a positive or very positive opinion on the wind farm in their neighbourhood and only 1 % had a negative or very negative attitude. In the case of the non-community owned wind farm, 47 % expressed a neutral opinion, while 26% were positive or very positive and 27 % were negative or very negative.

Stefan Gsänger, World Wind Energy Association Secretary General said: ‘If we want to reach a 100 % renewable energy supply worldwide with wind energy as a cornerstone, we have to make sure that the local communities actively support this endeavour and that they benefit from the wind farms in their vicinity. Community Power ownership models offer an excellent approach to achieving this objective.’

The local ownership idea has also spread to other technologies. A well as being a leader in wind, Denmark, makes a lot of use of district heating, and it is now developing some solar-fed heat networks, with some of them being run as community cooperatives.

For example, the Brædstrup District Heating co-op owns the network and heat meters and delivers district heating to almost 1,400 households, covering around 95 % of the heat demand in the town. Supply temperatures are between 72°C in summer and 80°C in winter, and all heat meters are remotely read at years end. A General assembly is held once a year, mostly in March, and all members of the cooperative have access.

The 2006 general assembly decided to invest in a major solar heat collector panel installation to go along side the existing gas-fired plant. Financial support was received from the national TSO (€480k), and installation took place in 2007. Solar heat production from the 5.6MW 8.000 sq.m solar array was 3,229 GWh in 2009.

Their next project is to expand the solar array to more than twice the size of the existing one, and to develop a heat storage based on 100 holes in the ground, each with a pipe loop, where surplus solar heat can be stored and extracted later with the help of heat pumps. Financial support has also been applied for and received for this experimental project to the sum of €850.000. If it goes well, further expansion is foreseen.

Many more community solar heating projects like this have emerged, with back up heat stores, including the 13MW array at Marstal, soon to be doubled: see For more see:

Biomass is also being used as a basis for local community projects around the EU. For example, Juehnde is the first bioenergy village in Germany, meaning that it produces its electricity and energy for heating and cooling locally from renewable biomass resources. While the project was started in 2000, it reached the self-sufficiency level for energy in June 2006. In 2007, Juehnde produced around 5 m kWh electricity, while the village’s consumption, with 750 residents in 200 households, 75% of whom are connected up, is about 2 m kWh. The excess is sold to energy providers. The major feedstocks for electricity generation are methane (biogas) produced from fermented liquid manure and locally grown energy crops. Heat is produced as by-product from electricity generation in a 700kWe biogas fired CHP plant and in Winter from burning woodchips. The major motivation behind the use of biomass is climate and resource protection. It’s run as a co-operative.

Local agriculture, with 9 local farmers, is the backbone for operating the project, as 25% of the 1300ha farmland and 10% of the annual forest wood growth from its 800ha of woodland is contracted for bioenergy production. But there are also two PV solar arrays- 10 and 8.6kWpeak

The project received €3m in financial support from Federal, regional, and local government agencies. It proved so successful, that a number of other bioenergy villages are being developed, even without the same government support.

The largest so far are Rai-Breittenbach with 900 residents 90% of whom are served by 3.5MW of biomass and 30 kW of PV; Iden with 1000 residents and 250kW of biogas and 850kW of wood fired generation, serving 75% of the population; and Randeqq, with 1300 people supplied by 2.7MW of wood generation and some solar thermal, supplying 50% of the population. And more are on the way.

More at

So how far have we got in the UK? The Bay Wind co-op in Cumbria was the first breakthrough, and several more wind co-ops have followed including Westmmill near Swindon, also now a site of a solar co-op:

Scotland has been leader in the field, with support from the Community and Renewable Energy Scheme. That has assisted 105 electricity generating projects over the last 2 years, which it’s claimed should result in an installed capacity of 53 MW and more are on the way. Overall, Community Energy Scotland have estimate that there is about 180 MW installed capacity of community owned renewables schemes currently under different stages of development and many more are planned. The 2020 Routemap for Renewable Energy in Scotland included a commitment to expanding the contribution from community schemes, with a new target of 500 MW community and locally- owned renewable energy by 2020.

One of the most recent projects is the community wind power scheme at Udny, Aberdeenshire, which is to be followed by Torrance Farm Community Wind Energy project at Harthill. A Community Trust Company has been formed to disburse the profits from the 800kW Udny scheme – £4 m over 20 years – which could go to fund projects such as a new community hall, a youth hut, a cinema or the expansion of a local paths network.

AAT has been trying to do the same thing in Wales, ( there are many new projects emerging across England, via groups like CoRE, the Community Renewables Co-op:; FREE, Fowey Renewable Energy Enterprise (; and WREN, Wadebridge Renewable Energy Network

However it’s up uphill struggle, not least to raise finance. The Renewable Obligation is not much use for smaller schemes- it’s designed for large-scale commercial projects. On the continent the various Feed In Tariffs were by contrast much more use, and there were hopes that the UKs small FiT could help, but its support for PV has now been drastically cut back. The new scheme, backed by British Gas, is promising, with hundreds of hopefuls signing up, but it seems we have some way to go before we can expect to see anything like what’s happening elsewhere in the EU.

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