Technology: solar photovoltaic (PV) panels

Location: Ardross, Highland

CARES funding: £13,604 capital grant, Let’s Do Net Zero Community Buildings Fund

Date installed/operational: March 2022

solar panels on the roof of Ardross Community Hall

Background

Ardross Community Hall, just north of Alness in Easter Ross, was built in 2000 with funds and grants raised by the community and on land donated to the community by Ardross Castle Estates. Owned and run by the community as a charity, the building includes a café area, kitchen facilities and a large hall fitted out with stage lighting and sound system. The community hall hosts a wide range of regular events and activities including a nursery and toddler group, yoga and dance classes and a lunch club. The hall is also available for hire.

The hall was built with sustainability in mind. It is fitted with a ground source heat pump and underfloor heating. It also has a large south-facing sloped roof, making it ideal to install solar photovoltaic (PV) panels.

John Edmondson, a Director for the community hall, said: “It has long been our intention to install solar PV. When we learned about the funding, we saw this as an opportunity to further reduce the hall’s carbon footprint and save on our energy costs.”

Project aims and objectives

After completing an energy audit through Zero Waste Scotland (now Business Energy Scotland), in 2021 the hall’s committee applied to the Let’s Do Net Zero Community Buildings Fund from the Scottish Government’s Community and Renewable Energy Scheme (CARES). It received a capital grant of £13,604 to install a large solar PV array (13 kW) on the hall’s south-facing roof.

John says: “Our objective was to reduce our building’s electricity costs by generating our own. To ensure that we can maximise the use of the electricity we will produce without exporting it back to the grid, we installed a system that will give us full monitoring capabilities.

“This monitoring system enables us to determine how best to use the electricity we’re generating and make further savings either by using battery storage or dumping heat in a large buffer tank for the hall’s underfloor heating (which is normally heated by the ground source heat pump). The system is also slightly oversized and limited by the inverter to ensure we maximise electricity production in the winter months.”

Outcomes and achievements

solar panels being installed on the roof of Ardross Community Hall

The new solar PV array was installed on time and within budget. The installation took around a week.

The committee used the services of a professional architect to obtain the relevant permissions and building warrants and used approved Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) accredited contractors to install it.

John says: “CARES supported us financially and guided us through the application process. It will not be possible to make a full assessment of our savings until we have monitored our usage and bills for a full calendar year. However, since the installation we have halved the amount of electricity we import and use around 70% of what we produce.

“We plan to use these savings to make improvements to the hall’s facilities over the coming year, lighting upgrades to LED will be high on the list. Any revenue earned from the exports will be used for the same purpose.

“The Ardross community takes great pride in our hall being built on sustainable principles. Further reducing its carbon footprint by producing our own renewable electricity is seen as a further positive development in the hall’s sustainability journey by all those involved.”

Lessons learned

John from Ardross Community Hall has a several tips for organisations considering similar renewable projects.

John says: “The two main challenges we experienced were getting three quotes for the installation and obtaining the necessary planning consents and warrants. This was mainly because of the time constraints of the grant from CARES. There are lot of variables to consider with solar PV installations and you have to be clear in what you want before asking installers to quote. They might change during the process too. Sometimes knowing exactly what you want in a capital project is the hardest part. Speak to as many people as you can: installers – consultants and suppliers – to try and arrive at a clear specification.”

John continues: “As far as obtaining the permissions, if they are required, our advice would be to hire a professional to obtain these because it is money well spent. Professionals understand the system and can produce the drawings and communicate effectively with the local authority’s officers and expedite the permissions more effectively.”

“The whole process can seem very daunting, but the rewards are great. Perseverance is the key. Do not try to do everything by committee. Key decisions have to be approved by committee, but the same committee must allow and trust the person or people in charge of the project to make day-to-day decisions and communicate their decisions timeously. Form a small sub-committee or group of people with clear parameters for decision making and let them run the project.”

With regards to quotations, John’s advice is to “remember it is not always the least expensive quotation that is the right solution for either you or the funders. You do have to justify the choice of approved contractor. But savings on volunteer time, previous experience and/or knowledge of the building, speed of delivery, and payment terms are all considerations (and not a fully inclusive list) when assessing the choice of contractor which ultimately can lead to the best outcome for your project.”

Find out more about Ardross Community Hall.