Governments worldwide are encouraging private companies to move away from fossil fuels and invest heavily in green energy and related technologies. In doing so, they are also trying to expand the consumer market, pushing the public to accept a movement away from fossil fuels, such as the natural gas used for heating water and houses, to green alternatives, such as wind, solar, geothermal, and green hydrogen power. And while a lot of consumers would like to play a role in the green transition, many do not have the funds or space to install renewable energy technology in their homes. But one U.K. company thinks it has come up with a way of helping consumers to invest in the green transition, as well as help lower their energy bills.
Ripple Energy is raising funds for the U.K.’s first “shared” solar park to be built in Devon, in the southeast of England. With two successful community energy schemes already underway, Ripple hopes to develop the 42-MW Derril Water solar park as its third. It expects the project to commence operations in the summer of 2024, so long as it can attract investors. It should produce enough energy to power around 14,000 homes across the U.K.
Ripple’s idea is to launch a co-owned energy project, consisting of 70,000 panels, to be shared by thousands of people. Investors can pay a one-off fee of as little as £25 to enough money to cover 120 percent of their home’s electricity bills, usually between £3,000 and £3,600, to own a piece of the park. This will allow homeowners to reduce their bills, by around £200 a year, by paying the wholesale rather than the market price of electricity. Ripple owns 10 percent of the park and households can purchase shares for the remaining 90 percent until mid-May.
The company’s idea is to provide people across the country with an opportunity to invest in the green transition. While many of these people may be unable to afford their own solar panels or may not have the house space or orientation required to install panels, this allows them to invest in the future of U.K. solar power, as well as decrease their utility costs. The installation of solar panels at home can cost between £7,000 and £12,000 on average, significantly higher than the investment required to own a piece of the park. The park is also expected to have a significant impact on the U.K.’s carbon emissions, which it could decrease by around 19,000 tonnes a year.
Sarah Merrick, the founder and CEO of Ripple Energy, believes that by offering consumer ownership, the Derril Water solar park “will become a completely different kind of solar park, one owned by the people it supplies low-cost green power to”. She added, “We want Derril Water to become a blueprint for consumer-owned solar parks around the world. The aim is to create a wave of green energy ownership that enables people to make a real climate impact, as well as stabilising their energy bills. We hope as many as possible become part of this pioneering project.”
The co-ownership scheme will work by allowing consumers to buy shares in a cooperative society managed by Ripple. Investors will be asked to choose between six energy suppliers that will be connected to the site. Consumers will then be given a discount on their electricity bills, of between 20% and 25%, for the next 40 years. While the future of electricity prices is uncertain, particularly as the U.K. moves away from fossil fuels to renewable alternatives, the recent rising costs of natural gas have caused household bills to soar over the last year. This is the first project of its kind, which may deter many consumers from investing. However, Ripple hopes that households will buy into the project to support the green transition, thereby demonstrating the willingness of the public to move away from fossil fuels, which could spur similar developments in other countries.
There have been several studies on the impact of community input on renewable energy projects worldwide, with the participation and acceptance of the community providing a greater chance of project success on average. In the U.S., the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) sees community participation as key to the success of the green transition. In a 2022 report, the NREL outlined that, more than 180 communities in the United States have committed to transition to 100 percent clean energy by 2050, there are 332 U.S. members and 2,500 international members of ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability, and around the globe, 11,752 cities, representing more than one billion people, are committed to the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy.
While the evidence for community-driven renewable energy projects being more successful has been widely discussed in studies and reports from several countries, Ripple is taking this idea one step further by asking households to invest in a shared solar farm. This scheme allows people across the U.K. to pay for solar power that they may not otherwise have been able to afford, as well as supporting the acceleration of the green transition. If successful, the Derril Water solar park design could be replicated elsewhere in the U.K. and other parts of the world.
By Felicity Bradstock for Oilprice.com
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