A 15-step guide to setting up a University Community Energy Project
By Solar SOAS (UniSolar Limited)
1. Form a group of enthusiastic volunteers
Team up with anyone excited about the idea. Look for uni environmental groups, Fossil Free campaigners, students or alumni in engineering, business, energy, finance, design, law and more!
Familiarise yourself with what community energy is, including the workings and structures. Useful resources: Plan LoCal, UniSolar, Community Energy England, CSE, Community Energy Coalition, Leapfrog, 10:10
Start a public Facebook page, a private Facebook working group and a group email thread. E.g. Solar SOAS
Organise regular meetings (weekly or bi-weekly). You will need a core team who can commit to regular meetings and work on this project
2. Identify suitable green energy sources on campus
Big open windy space for a wind turbine? A nearby river fit for hydro?
For solar PV, identify uni buildings and halls of residence with unused roofs and check their rough solar power generation capacity using 10:10’s free mobile app LookUp! . Or empty spaces like fields could potentially house a solar farm.
3. Launch the project idea
Invite all students to an event to get more people involved (e.g. open consultation, host a movie, do a speaker event with UniSolar)
Meet with students’ union and get their feedback
Think about putting forward a UGM motion to get the union’s official support for student community energy
Research (and maybe meet with) established community energy groups
4. Identify your university’s Energy Manager or equivalent. Arrange to meet and ask:
Has this been tried before on campus? Are there any existing feasibility studies to build on? Are there certain roofs unsuitable due to equipment up there, or access difficulties in the next few years?
Can the Energy Manager, Sustainability and Estates staff help you?
Who owns the university grounds/buildings? What does the roof/space lease situation look like?
5. Find one or more contractors to discuss feasibility. Solar installer companies for example might be able to provide a free desktop survey to get some initial insight into generation capacity.
6. Money - work out how will you fund the early and later stages of the project. You will likely need funding to enlist the help of experts like engineers, solicitors, accountants.
Student Enterprise departments and Student Hubs can offer useful (and free) advice on setting up a business and projects as well as competition prize money
Set up a student society and use the society budget
The university itself might be able to offer some funding, as might the local authority council
Research other (external) grants/competitions you can apply for e.g. Mayor of London Low Carbon Entrepreneur Competition (£20k 1st prize); Rural Community Energy Fund (relevant once you’re further along and ready to do formal feasibility work); NACUE; Santander, Community Action Awards
7. Identify decision-making structures at the university and meet with individuals in management you need permission and support from (Fossil Free team may have tips)
i.e. Head of estates and governance board - ask (perhaps through Energy Manager) to meet up in order to pitch your idea (formally or informally) and gauge the level of support, or identify crucial barriers early on e.g. land/building lease restrictions
8. Explore formal legal business structures. You might need to be legally incorporated for some funding opportunities, and it can help you be taken seriously by stakeholders.
i.e. CICs, Community Benefit Society, Co-ops, Charities, IPS.
Look at how different structures will impact how income is distributed, implement a sustainable governance structure and embed certain company rules about social/environmental objectives
Consider costs of registering as a legal entity- use society budget/prize/grant
LEAP, Student enterprises and UniSolar can provide some legal resources and advice
note that this process can take several weeks/months
10. Financial model
Get financial modelling advice (from expert friends, relatives, supporters, or pro bono from financial firms) and estimate potential income and costs for community energy projects
11. Stakeholder engagement
Survey university stakeholders (students, faculty, staff, alumni) in person, through social media and/or by email to gauge interest on campus for joining/ investing/ donating to a potential community energy project
12. Engage with your local council
Talk to the sustainability/planning officer, identify council initiatives that can support what you’re doing, and identify any obstacles (e.g. listed buildings, conservation area, local opposition groups)
13. Get started with Urban/Rural community energy fund application
UniSolar, as a successful applicant for UCEF (securing a £20k grant!) can help with this- remember we can consult you at every step of this process!
Get letters of support from important stakeholders (e.g. local council, university management, 10:10, UniSolar Limited)
14. Get investment ready with about £20k, raise capital through an appropriate crowd-funding initiative (ie equity, community share offer, reward/donation based crowdfunding), install your renewable technology and make progress towards your financial, environmental and social benefits and goals.
15. Make lasting friendships and join the energy revolution, and spread the word!