Sandwell community workshop solar PV system


solar panels on roofProject name:
Sandwell community workshop solar PV system
Technology: Solar photovoltaic (PV) system
Location: Buckhaven, Fife
CARES funding: £3,470 capital grant
Date installed/operational: 19 February 2021 

Background

CLEAR (Community-led Environmental Action for Regeneration) Buckhaven and Methil is a registered Scottish charity based in Fife. Its aims are to improve the local environment and to build pride and engagement in the community. It strives to improve public areas and green spaces in and around the town and to create more sustainable environments in the adjoining countryside.

After working out of lockups and a small hub for several years, CLEAR acquired a former joiner’s workshop and yard in December 2017 at Sandwell Street, Buckhaven. The premises have since been used for activities such as bike repairs, woodwork and crafts workshops, and food processing (juicing and jam-making produce from community gardens nearby).

The premises have undergone several improvements over the years, with upgrading works funded by CLEAR. The premises, which are used four days a week, are used by local volunteers and groups, many of whom face challenges including mental health and employability. The premises also house a fleet of electric bikes which are used by staff, volunteers, and other members of the community.

Because the premises are in a prime central location, there is the opportunity to expand their use to serve the local community more effectively. CLEAR wanted to install renewable or solar energy production to encourage greater use of the facilities at reduced cost. Since CLEAR pursues a strong environmental ambition, installing solar energy generation at this key site would also demonstrate the potential of renewable energy to the wider community.

Project aims and objectives

The project had three key aims.

  • Install solar panels on the recently installed workshop roofs to generate sustainable and affordable electricity for the community workshop, food unit, and electric vehicle charge point.
  • Get more affordable energy, which in turn would encourage greater use of the workshop.
  • Act as a demonstration of CLEAR’s environmental credentials and ambition to the wider community.

Outcomes and achievements

CLEAR raised the required funds to finance the project, particular the match funding required, although most of the funds came from its own reserves.

The solar panels were successfully installed, overcoming challenges including carrying out work hampered by the lockdown and bad weather. Installation also avoided the loss of natural rooflight and the functioning electrical system. A monitoring system will also enable CLEAR members to manage the PV system and energy generation and monitor electricity consumption in the future.

At the time of writing (March 2021, during lockdown) it is too soon to see if the installation has reduced the premises’ energy bills. However, once restrictions are lifted and more normal operations resume, CLEAR hopes to see its energy bills reduce. It also hopes that these cost savings will enable more sessions to run eg evening bike workshops.

A spokesperson from CLEAR added: “CARES was very helpful in clarifying what was required following the grant offer and also in supporting us to install within the available funding period.”

Lessons learned

A CLEAR spokesperson identified several key lessons learned.

She said: “A patient, step-by-step process is required. We hoped to install solar PV at the community workshop after we acquired it two and a half years ago. However, it soon became clear that the asbestos cement roof needed replaced. We were fortunate to receive an Energy Efficiency assessment of the premises which gave us expert guidance on whether solar PV would be appropriate. On this basis we could then invite professional installers to quote for the job.

“Patience was also needed: firstly because of extended lockdown, and then because adverse weather disrupted our installation plans on several occasions. We did, however, make clear to the installers the deadline for installation.

“We obtained quotes for different electricity outputs to keep our options open. It was then a struggle to identify, then line up, potential installers. This was partly on the basis that the cost of additional panels would be proportionately less (in other words, it would be 3.19 kWp for nine panels, but 4.2 kWp for 12 panels) since the installation cost would not change. We also accepted a slightly higher quote since that installer stressed that a solar optimiser system would overcome certain site limitations, such as partial shadow.

“Because we managed to arrange some additional funds after the CARES grant was approved, we chose to go with the slightly larger capacity system which gives additional options. Since then, our plans for an electric vehicle charge point have also progressed, and this will be installed soon.

“There was some concern that the solar panels would obstruct the excellent roof lighting that was installed as a result of our recent re-roofing. However, by ensuring the solar PV installers were aware of this and asking them to ensure the panels didn’t minimise the light, we’ve kept the excellent internal natural lighting.”

For more information on CLEAR Fife, visit CLEAR Fife’s website.