Ongoing

North East

Solar-Powered Community Buildings

Overview

NICRE is working with Community Action Northumberland (CAN) and the Rural Design Centre Innovation Project (RDCIP) to support village halls and other community buildings in rural Northumberland to transition to net zero by installing solar panels with associated battery storage. This will help mitigate carbon emissions, save on energy bills and enable them to be more energy resilient.

The video (link, right) provides an overview of the project and was shown as part of our national event in November 2023. This project is led by CAN.

Outcomes

The partners are working with more than 40 community buildings, growing from 19 original buildings in Northumberland. The North East Rural Community Energy Fund (RCEF) has funded two phases of work:

1. A first-stage feasibility study (complete), which identified opportunities for buildings involved to install solar PV to offset their energy costs and reduce carbon footprint; opportunities to install battery storage at a number of the locations, allowing generation at times when the buildings are less busy to be either released at busier times or sold into the grid. This stage also developed the concept of a full virtual powerplant, integrating supply and demand across multiple locations to achieve maximum cost and carbon savings.

2. Phase two work (in progress) to undertake all pre-development work in relation to installing PV and battery systems for the buildings and to establish a community energy entity (see below). This second phase of feasibility has been submitted and is currently under review.

NICRE has also commissioned further feasibility work from consultancy Urban Foresight on battery storage which will make community buildings more energy resilient and economic feasibility of the cooperative energy company.

Next steps

Phase two work is nearly complete, with pre-development work (e.g., detailed roof surveys, plans for planning applications, etc.) being delivered by the Sustainable Design Studio.

National Lottery funding has been secured to fund solar panel installation on 3 community buildings in 2023 and CAN, along with Action with Communities in Cumbria (ACT) and Durham Community Action (DCA),  received further National Lottery funding that will support additional installations.

Alongside this, a community energy entity formed as a cooperative with individual community groups as members, which launched in September 2023 as Northumberland Community Energy Limited.

CAN also has grown the provision for energy advice for rural communities, which includes a team of Community Energy advisers.

Village halls and/or community buildings not yet participating in the project can register interest in phase 3 feasibility studies by contacting hello@ruraldesigncentre.com.

You can view the phase 1 and 2 buildings included in this project at this linked map.

Conclusions and recommendations

The proposed model for the project is innovative, both in scope and operation. While community energy schemes exist across the UK, as far as we are aware, none operate on a dispersed, co-operative-based model such as the one we are proposing. We hope that through this project we will be able to develop an effective model that can be applied across the country by similar groups.

Such a model will help communities become more energy resilient, both in the face of rising energy prices, and in times of power outages. The dramatic increases in energy costs have made the operation of many community buildings difficult and the need for locally-generated energy has never been greater. Severe winter storms have also heightened local perceptions of the need to develop independent energy sources to enable critical local facilities to continue to run in testing circumstances. This is particularly important for the many community buildings which operate as Emergency Rest Centres in conjunction with Northumberland County Council’s Civil Contingencies unit.

Partners

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