Can Innovative Group Buying Schemes Kick Start the Solar Boom?

Residents in Bolton have the opportunity to join together to establish an innovative group buying scheme to install solar panels on their homes.

The scheme has been created to help Bolton homeowners feel confident that they are not only paying the right price but getting a high-quality installation from a vetted installer. ‘Solar Together Greater Manchester’ has been designed to boost local renewable energy generation.

The new initiative follows three highly successful schemes run across the country last year which led to over 1650 installations and an impressive 35,000 tonnes of avoided lifetime carbon emissions.  

Bolton and the nine other Greater Manchester local authorities have partnered with the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA), and the group-buying specialist, iChoosr Ltd to bring this opportunity to Greater Manchester’s homeowners.

From 17 September 2019, Greater Manchester residents can join ‘Solar Together Greater Manchester’, the solar photovoltaic (PV) group-buying scheme. It is free to register and there is no obligation to install panels.

Greater Manchester Green City-region lead, Councillor Andrew Western said:

” We want Greater Manchester to be the UK’s leading green city region and by working together with local councils, businesses and residents, we can take action to achieve our ambition to reduce carbon emissions. This scheme will contribute to Greater Manchester’s aim to become a carbon neutral city region by 2038.

The Greater Manchester Solar Together scheme is an innovative new scheme which will collectively deliver more local renewable energy and reduce carbon emissions. It’s a great opportunity to install solar PV panels at a competitive price.”

An auction will take place on 22nd October where pre-vetted solar PV suppliers can participate in a competitive environment. They will be able to offer compelling pricing due to the volume and geographic concentration of the potential installations which will make it possible for them to realise greater efficiencies.

After the auction registered households will receive a personal recommendation which is specific to the details they submitted in their registration. If they wish to go ahead with the recommendation the specifics of their installation will be confirmed with a technical survey. Once the technical survey has been completed a date can be set for the installation of their solar PV system.

Telephone and helpdesks will be provided throughout the whole process as well as information sessions that will allow households to make an informed decision in a safe and stress-free environment.

Marie-Louise Abretti, iChoosr UK Solar Manager said:

“Solar Together Greater Manchester reaches out to the thousands of households interested in reducing their environmental impact by exploring solar energy but would welcome a helping hand on their journey to making an informed decision.”

Widely supported Executive Cabinet Member for Strategic Housing, Cllr Toby Hewitt, also said:

“As part of our commitment to reduce carbon emissions, we are promoting this innovative scheme which will collectively deliver more local renewable energy and reduce carbon emissions. It’s a great opportunity for our residents to install solar PV panels at a competitive price.”

iChoosr has a strong track record of delivering group purchase schemes for local authorities. It has worked with 160 UK local authorities on its collective energy switching schemes. Furthermore, in 2018 UK councils, in collaboration with iChoosr, initiated their collective purchase schemes for solar PV systems. iChoosr’s collective schemes have been embraced by 120 local authorities in The Netherlands and Belgium. Over 25 schemes led to 50,000 residents installing solar PV systems – a total of 175 MW of power.

Manchester is not the only UK city to embrace a similar scheme. Earlier this year, the Mayor of London, Sadiq Kahn launched ‘Solar Together London’ which is only part of a plan that sees solar power as one of the cornerstone renewable energy sources required to accomplish his vision of making London a zero-carbon city by 2050.

Solar Together London is a group-buying scheme for households and small businesses across the capital. Basically, homeowners and businesses can register their interest in having solar panels on their home or building. Then with the support of local authorities, photovoltaic (PV) panels can be purchased in bulk at low cost and installed, passing on savings to registered parties.

Initially, Solar Together London was rolled out to four city boroughs, but this has now been expanded to encompass 12 boroughs due to the success of the first phase of the scheme. The first phase of the scheme attracted 4,000 London residents to register their interest in the programme, and more than 1,100 people went on to accept the offer of affordable solar panels.

Though solar panels might not work for the city’s high-rise complexes there is still an abundance of untapped potential in London, especially in residential areas. SELCE is a community energy organisation based in South East London that, alongside providing energy advice and support to the local community, also operates a scheme very similar to the Mayor’s Solar Together London initiative.

Dr Giovanna Speciale, director and co-founder of SELCE explains:

“We are bringing together residents who want to install solar and we’re using scale to reduce cost. The savings the installer makes from being able to do three installations in a day rather than one get passed on to the local residents. We did this completely without funding and it’s much smaller, but the savings are of a similar scale,” Those who are part of our collective purchasing scheme obviously think it’s brilliant, so we have direct experience of how beneficial one of these schemes can be. I’m very impressed with this current administration’s commitment to renewables. Is it the panacea to everything? No, but it’s one of a number of measures that are going to help. The only suggestion I would have for the Mayor is perhaps to work a little closer with organisations like ours, who already have in-roads into the community…it’s just so much easier if you create community enthusiasm around solar by concentrating on small geographical areas.”

Dr Giovanni Speciale isn’t the only one praising this initiative.

James Watson, SolarPower Europe CEO said of the scheme:

 “This is a fantastic campaign; we need to see more mayors taking the same sort of approach as Sadiq Khan. Such schemes really put people at the heart of the energy transition and give them a direct experience of the benefits of solar. We encourage other mayors in the UK and Europe to also adopt such supportive schemes and help put solar on all the suitable rooftops of Europe.”

While these schemes might only be small initiatives in the wider scheme of the solar energy market in the UK any way uptake can be increased will most definitely benefit the cities, the broader national energy market and communities themselves. The hope is that the rest of the country will take the lead from London and Manchester’s example and become switched on to solar. The Mayor of London’s office estimates that in order to make London a truly zero-carbon city by 2050, 20 times more solar generation equipment will need to be installed.