Friday, 23 March 2018

Generate your own power with free roof solar panels

BUSINESSES and community groups in Henley are being invited to generate their own power by installing solar panels on their roofs free of charge.

Henley in Transition, an environment and sustainability group, is urging the owners of large buildings to join a new scheme run in partnership with the Reading Community Energy Society.

The society would install up to several dozen solar cells at participating premises and reclaim the cost through Energy4All, a national co-operative of people who want to invest in “green” projects.

Participants would use energy generated by the panels to supplement their regular supply, which they would automatically switch back to when output drops on cloudy days or at night. They would pay the society for the energy at below the market rate for 20 years after which they would fully own the panels and their output. The panels would be expected to last another two or three decades.

The not-for-profit society, which began in 2015, would supplement its income by selling surplus energy back to the national grid. Money left over after paying the investors’ returns would go towards community projects with an environmental theme.

Henley in Transition is in talks with about a dozen organisations that have expressed an interest.

The scheme is open to anyone with a roof space of at least 100 square metres, which faces mostly southwards with little shading.

They must have a single occupier and receive all their power through a single meter and, ideally, should have a relatively high daytime usage.

Tony Hoskins, the society’s chairman, approached Henley in Transition after moved from Reading to St Mark’s Road in Henley almost two years ago.

He previously oversaw the installation of about 700 cells on 12 buildings in Reading. These generate a total of 176 kilowatts peak, enough to power more than 35 average households in a year under ideal conditions.

Mr Hoskins said: “We were initially confined to central Reading but now we’re looking to expand within a 10-mile radius, which includes Henley and many of the surrounding villages. We’ve spoken to about 15 organisations and will be approaching investors once we have agreement in principle from the owners of the buildings.

“People are definitely receptive to the idea, although we’re finding they have to take a lot of steps internally as it’s a 20-year commitment and it’s sometimes hard for them to get their heads around the long-term advantages.

“It has been very well-received in Reading and we’ve already been able to make some small grants with the money we’ve raised. Over a 20-year period we expect to have a community fund of more than £120,000.

“It’s worth getting involved as you’re generating free renewable energy and ultimately helping the community.”

Katrina Judge, who is leading the project for Henley in Transition, said: “We’re already talking to lots of organisations about this but want to hear from anyone who’s interested as there’s no limit on how many can take part.

“We need to move quite quickly on this as we want everything to come together at the same time, so people need to be willing to commit within the next six months or so.

“We’re quite far down the line in talks with three or four people and others have expressed an interest so the initial reception has been pretty positive.

“It’s a great way for people to reduce their energy bills while generating green energy and reducing their carbon footprint. There are also longer-term benefits as they get to keep the panels in the end, which solves the problem many people have of not being able to afford the initial outlay.”

According to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, at least 5,000 community energy schemes have been registered in the UK since 2010. There are now enough across England to power 85,500 homes.

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