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Bristol Energy Cooperative

What they do

BEC was established in 2011 by a number of community energy volunteers. It has raised £12m of investment, has 600 members, owns 9MWp of solar and battery assets, and employs 3.5 FTE staff. It has so far facilitated over £250,000 of community benefit payments to the local community.

Bristol Energy Cooperative's vision

BEC was formed in 2011 by people from a number of community energy groups across the city. It was registered as an Industrial and Provident Society for Community Benefit (otherwise known as a Community Benefit Society), but following the Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies Act 2014, is now officially a registered society.

BEC’s main aims are:

  • to enable meaningful cuts in carbon emissions, and reduce dependence on unsustainable sources of energy;
  • to fund and implement renewable energy and energy efficiency measures, in collaboration with communities and businesses; and
  • to work co-operatively with communities to make carbon reduction technologies available to all, regardless of financial resources, and support mutual action to respond to the challenges of climate change.

Track record

Having started small in 2011, BEC now owns and operates the following assets, which provide enough electricity to power 2,300 average homes:

Lawrence Solar Farm

 

Solar farms:

Lawrence Weston (4.2 MWp)
Puriton (4.6 MWp)

Rooftop solar installations:

ACTA Theatre Company, Bedminster (22 kWp)
Brentry and Henbury Children's Centre (13 kWp)
Bristol Folk House (10 kWp)
Bristol Indoor Bowls Club (152 kWp)
Coniston Community Centre, Patchway (20 kWp)
Easton Community Centre (41 kWp)
Empire Fighting Chance (20 kWp)
Hamilton House (20 kWp)
John Sheppard (138 kWp)
Knowle West Media Centre (25 kWp)
South Bristol Sports Centre (50 kWp)
The Architecture Centre (4 kWp)
Wick Sports Ground (27 kWp)

Other BEC activities

1. Microgrid Foundry
Alongside other community energy organisations BEC is a major stakeholder in the Microgrid Foundry joint venture which is developing and financing microgrid installations in new housing schemes.

Microgrids combine excellent energy efficiency with on-site renewables, energy storage and smart technology enabling residents to get most of their energy from on-site generation, topping up from the grid when needed, and exporting any excess energy to it. No gas boilers are required on site. Initial investment has been made to progress the first two microgrid sites in Bristol and Dorset.

2. COAM (Community Owned Asset Management)
BEC is one of a number of community energy groups who recently came together to form COAM Ltd. COAM owns Bright Renewables, which provides asset management services for solar farms and other renewable energy assets.

3. Zero West
BEC is a founder member and developer of Zero West (zerowest.org), a collaboration to accelerate the Zero Carbon transition in the West of England region. It brings together the commercial sector, the community sector, and the four West of England local authorities.

What next?

Projects in this share offer

The following projects are likely to be supported by Share Offer 7.

 

Bristol Community Hydro Scheme

The largest scheme featured in this share offer is BEC’s run of the river hydro scheme at Netham Weir, about a mile away from Bristol Temple Meads railway station.

Micro hydro is an increasingly popular technology across the UK and internationally. It uses the natural force of the water falling across the weir to spin a turbine and generate electricity, without the need for building a large reservoir.

BEC has been developing this site for a number of years, and it now has Planning consent from Bristol City Council and the necessary Environment Agency licences. The project will use tried and trusted twin Archimedes screw turbine technology with a combined 300kW output, enough to power 250 typical homes. The scheme will run night and day throughout the year, with peak output in winter. Its total cost is around £2.4million.

The scheme is not eligible for the Feed-In Tariff scheme, so BEC has sought additional sources of funding for the project. It has crowd-funded £30,000 (of donations) from over 400 supporters to progress the pre-construction phase of the scheme and is seeking in-kind support from a number of businesses.

BEC has also applied to the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) for a £1.15million grant for the scheme. Without this grant the scheme is unlikely to be viable. In April 2020 BEC received first-stage approval for the grant and has been working since then towards full approval. ERDF will make the final decision in December 2020. The decision is not affected by Brexit. The grant is however dependent on BEC match-funding the money, and funds from this share offer would provide this.

Roof-top solar

In March 2020 BEC completed the first subsidy-free rooftop solar PV installation in its portfolio – a 152kW array at Bristol Indoor Bowls Club. The financial model for the installation is viable because the building has a large roof, the Club is a high-volume electricity user and was willing to sign a long-term lease and Power Purchase Agreement because of the cost and carbon savings the scheme will bring to the Club.

A second subsidy-free rooftop installation is scheduled for this share offer. BEC expects to develop additional schemes through its Zero West collaborations and because the reality of climate change is spurring ever more people and organisations into taking practical action. Funds from this share offer will be allocated to further rooftop schemes as available. These funds may include those that had earlier been used as bridge-funding for the hydro scheme and which have subsequently been replenished by the ERDF grant.

Community microgrids – the Water Lilies project

BEC has worked with Bristol-based start-up Clean Energy Prospector (CEPRO) for a number of years. CEPRO manages metering and billing for BEC’s rooftop solar sites. CEPRO also designed the installation of BEC’s 106kWp/169kWh grid-servicing Tesla battery at a site near Winchester. The two companies had been looking for ways to integrate renewable energy and battery technology into residential housing, and in 2019 established the Microgrid Foundry to do this. Chelwood Community Energy (CCE) is a third partner in the company.

Microgrids combine excellent energy efficiency with on-site renewables, energy storage and smart technology. Residents get most of their energy from on-site generation, topping up from the grid when needed, and exporting any excess energy to it. No fossil fuel is used on site.

The technology is available now, but the big housebuilders are reluctant to adopt this model because it’s novel and requires a change of mindset. The Microgrid Foundry aims to demonstrate the benefits and catalyse the national rollout of domestic microgrids.

Two Microgrid Foundry sites are now under construction. One features in this share offer – the Water Lilies site in Bristol.

 

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