Brixton Energy, a London-based community energy co-operative, formally launched their first 'Solar 1' project this week. This involves placing solar panels on social housing on the Loughborough estate in Brixton, one of the most deprived estates in the UK.
This is the first initiative of the co-operative; a project that has pulled though due to the determination of the team to prove that community energy is the way forward in the UK - despite the recent cut in the feed-in tariff scheme. It is also the first community-owned urban energy project in the UK.
Projects like this are nothing new in Germany where 90% of renewable is community-owned. However, they are a fairly new phenomenon in the UK. Brixton Energy are hoping its project will kick start a community energy revolution.
Solar 1 is the first part of a wider, long-term initiative called Repower South London, which aims to use the experience of Brixton Energy to connect all the energy start-ups that exist within the South London Transition Town network.
Importance of independence
At Thursday's launch event Howard Johns, Director of Southern Solar, expressed his company's excitement to have been chosen as installers for this project. He also stressed the importance of investing in energy independence and community projects at a time when energy prices are dramatically rising.
James Ashmead, another Southern Solar representative, added that solar continues to be a good investment opportunity as solar panels prices are dropping all the time; all this in spite of the government's introduction of the controversial cut in the feed-in tariff.
At this point an optimistic individual in the crowd intervened to state that "with energy prices rising all the time, soon we won't need the feed-in tariff anyway''.
The evening also featured a talk from Councillor Lib Peck, Lambeth cabinet member for sustainability, who spoke about the council's strong motivation for backing this project, highlighting the fact that she is so impressed that she has become a Solar 1 investor herself.
Another local investor explained that as a rented accommodation tenant in London, apart from changing the odd light bulb, his options are limited around how to lower his carbon footprint, so becoming a Solar 1 investor gives him an exciting new opportunity to exercise his environmental principles.
"Switched-on, local people"
Brixton Energy was co-founded by Agamemnon Otero, who holds a Masters in Architecture, Advanced Environment and Energy Studies.
He has this to say about the project: "Brixton Energy Solar 1 is the first co-operatively owned inner-city powerstation built on social housing and has also pioneered a self-sustaining, financially viable Community Energy Efficiency Fund.
"As of today, 87 local residents from the Loughborough estate and Brixton have invested their own money to finance this project. Not one corporate investor or business has done so; just concerned, switched-on, local people.''
He lists the benefits of investing the project as:
1) Investors will be part of the first community-owned renewable energy scheme in London.
2) Investors will be supporting the first in community-owned renewable energy project for social housing.
3) Investors will be the first to help set up a Community Energy Efficiency Fund that will run for 25 years.
4) Investors will be helping to offset 20 tonnes of carbon per annum.
5) Investors will receive 3% return on their investment.
On a personal level, I'm delighted to be supporting this scheme because at a time with rising energy prices, ongoing energy demand and our addiction to fossil fuels, schemes like this should be supported. If the UK is going to move away from its fossil fuel dependency, they are vital.
In addition, they are a great way of supporting local communities and in this case, helping people out of fuel poverty.
Construction on the Loughborough estate will begin within the next two weeks. To find out more about Brixton Energy: http://brixtonenergy.co.uk/