Storing solar with Alistair in Plymouth

Community energy groups were sent back to the drawing board when the government cut support for renewables. But not to be beaten, groups have been innovating. This is the story of one group venturing into new territory.

Plymouth Energy Community’s vision is simple, and just a bit revolutionary: local people taking control of their energy future.

Since the group was founded in 2013, the people of Plymouth have really got behind it. In just two years, Plymouth Energy Community had installed community-owned solar panels on 30 schools and public buildings - all thanks to hundreds of local investors.

But, when the government cut support for renewables, installing solar in this way became very tricky.

Alistair Macpherson had been involved in founding Plymouth Energy Community. Now he and the team were sent back to the drawing board.

How could they make the most of what they had already installed, and use every last drop of that sun-power? Alistair had a thought… what about batteries?

They seemed like a great fit: when the panels were generating lots of electricity, the battery could store what wasn’t needed right then, ready to be used later.

There’s been a lot of excitement around new battery tech lately. And Alistair believes communities must play a central role of developing new ideas like this.

“Batteries are going to be huge. Our energy infrastructure needs to be a lot more flexible and it’ll be storage that brings that flexibility.”

They came up with a tool to test whether or not they could afford to install batteries at their different solar buildings.

Every place they tested came up with the same answer: too expensive.

But, no doesn’t mean never. Looking at the way battery costs are falling and electricity prices rising, batteries could soon get a big thumbs up. Perhaps even by the end of this year.

“The sector showed massive resilience given the pounding it’s taken from various different government decisions. And continues to go ‘yeah we can do some stuff’! I hope that kind of groundswell that we generated a few years ago that is able to reignite itself.”

These profiles were created in partnership with Regen and the Friends Provident Foundation

Photo: Plymouth Energy Community