STA Blogs: How the economics of solar can work for local Government

  • James Owen has been an advocate for public sector solar deployment for many years, and has been integral in a number of significant public sector successes including huge projects at RAF Lyneham and the Science Museum site at Wroughton. as well as the first public sector bond issue at Common Farm in Swindon, he believes the public sector can deliver gigawatts worth of solar without subsidy.

15th June 2018

Ever since I got into green energy, back in 2002, I have focussed on helping the public sector lower its carbon footprint, deliver more sustainable services and deploy renewables. This was both from the bottom up, in my days in a local environment charity in Wiltshire, and as in installer with my own business. I have also worked from the top down, through large-scale initiatives during my tenure leading Public Power Solutions in Swindon. In my own consultancy today I have structured several pioneering projects and was delighted to model the finances for typical council projects in order to support the findings of the STA’s recent Leading Lights report.

The public sector has always been better placed to deploy renewable solutions, particularly solar, than any other sector; they have land and building assets, they have access to money at the right price, they have a predictable energy demand for onsite/near site consumption and they have a moral and ethical remit to be at the forefront of sustainability and climate change mitigation. These advantages & responsibilities are unique.

In the days of comfortable subsidies, sizing of systems was a relatively simple affair. However, in a post-subsidy world, maximising on-site usage and massively reducing spillage are critical to systems achieving acceptable rates of returns. It is therefore important to size systems using real-world half-hourly data to marry up generation to demand. Another advantage the public sector has is that it often has half-hourly data and switched-on energy managers able to access and understand the data, making procurement of viable systems much easier.

Despite all of these positive factors, the public sector as a whole has yet to deliver significant capacity. There are many reasons for this but the two I hear time and time again are; “Solar is dead….isn’t it?” and “we couldn’t make the numbers stack up”.

Neither of these damaging memes stands up to investigation with hard data, but it surprises me how many times people are shown the actual economics of a project with the latest pricing and real-world energy generation versus demand data, yet projects still don’t get delivered. There are of course some wonderful examples of projects that are getting deployed but these now need to become the norm, not the exception.

As the latest Solar Trade Association report shows, solar is very much alive and the economics for most projects definitely do stack up. I modelled typical projects all over the country, looking at different insolation levels and different forms of low-cost finance available to the public sector. From school roofs to council buildings, and even solar farms, local authorities can make it work today. By acting early, ahead of the industry, councils can secure a stake in the low-carbon future that means not only environmental leadership but secure revenues for frontline services for decades to come.

A summary of James Owen’s modelling for Leading Lights is available here;

You download the full report below;

James Owens consultancy details:

Email – [email protected]
Mobile – 07912176457