The great British move to local, renewable energy

Als Vowles, technical lead on Southill Solar, explains how energy generation in the UK is changing - and why she's taken a year off work to get Southill Solar up and running.

Occasionally when I have time to breathe, I ask myself whether I am crazy.

I have just taken a year off work, with the pressures that this brings, plus three small children to juggle.

Instead of earning a living, and with a team of other passionate locals, I am trying to get the Southill Solar farm built so that we have our own community power station. This, I believe, will really make a difference…

The youngest Southill Solar supporter (and newest member of Als's family!)

The youngest Southill Solar supporter (and newest member of Als's family!)

This will really make a difference

Back in 2001, I came away from a degree in Geology with two pieces of information that made me hell-bent on joining the UK’s renewables revolution. The first was that man-made climate change was real and a huge threat to our planet, seen in ice core measurements from Antarctica. The second was that the disposal of nuclear waste will leave an ugly legacy for future generations and that there is no safe place to store it.

Living in the UK, with such vast and varied renewable energy resources – wind, wave, tidal, solar and wood – I wanted to be part of this huge shift towards local and sustainable green power.

The massive uptake in UK renewables

A few years later, as an employee of one of the big 6 energy suppliers in the UK, a German colleague presented the vision of shifting our energy generation away from a few large scale centralised power stations, to local decentralised community energy generators as was happening across northern Europe.

His presentation was inspirational, but was hit by a wave of negativity from people in the room who believed that our system in the UK was too ingrained to attempt this change.

Forwarding 10 years to 2015, what a different story this is.

In 2005, just 4% of our electricity was from renewable sources and now in 2016, we are looking at more than 20%. This massive uptake in UK renewables has had significant implications in the way that our electricity networks are managed. New tools and technologies are arriving thick and fast to address these changes and make a much smarter power grid.

Renewable energy is going to win – communities will be self-sufficient in green power

We are now at an energy crossroads in the UK. On the one hand, power is being pumped out from large fossil fuel and nuclear power stations and on the flipside, power is coming from smaller green generators dotted all around the UK. If we could pin down for certain which way the UK was going to leap, it would help us vastly in the implementation of new systems to manage our energy supply effectively.

It all seems obvious to me though, that despite current Government policies, local power is gaining ground. With the new generation of battery storage led by serious players in the market, renewable generation is going to win and communities will eventually become self-sufficient in green power.

Southill Solar – our own green power

This is why I am working so hard to create Southill Solar, a community owned solar farm next to my home town of Charlbury, in Oxfordshire, led by Southill Community Energy. We have the opportunity to have our own green electricity resource which will power 1,100 households in our rural area and which we should be able to link directly to local people’s own power use in the not too distant future.

Join us – be an investor-member

We are looking for investors to take a share of this scheme and own it. Returns are good and the investment is good with all of the income being recycled back into the local area to be spent on more community environmental projects. 

This is surely a magnificent flagship project for local green energy generation, made all the more exciting in that it is in David Cameron’s own constituency – and following on from all of his Government’s cuts, it will be one of the last solar farms in the UK for now.