Technology: 91kW Solar PV panels

Location: Glasgow City

CARES funding: £59,255 capital loan and enablement grant

Date installed/operational: September 2020


Glasgow Community Energy (GCE) started life in 2015 as the Radical Renewable Art + Activism Fund (RRAAF) project. The project aimed to establish a new ethical and autonomous funding source for radical art and activism by investing in renewable energy technologies. It registered as a Community Benefit Society (BenCom) in February 2017.

GCE aims to connect and empower local people through community-ownership and democratic involvement in its renewable energy co-operative. It also aims to inspire and sustain community activism through its Community Benefit Fund.

GCE’s objectives, as defined in its Rules, are to “carry on any business for the benefit of the community by:

  • the development, installation, management, operation, generation, transmission and supply of energy from renewable and low carbon energy sources
  • the generation of income to encourage, support and create a platform for radical art and activism in the local and wider community, through grants, educational initiatives, public events and actions
  • the promotion of awareness of environmental and related issues and support for educational initiatives related to renewable energy in the locality of any energy project supported by the Society, and
  • enabling the local and wider community to share in the ownership of, and reinvest in, renewable and low carbon energy generation and energy efficiency initiatives.”

To achieve these outcomes GCE focuses on partnering with like-minded organisations and building partnerships across the third sector to deliver energy projects.

GCE also has a workshop resource and has delivered workshops to more than 10 schools in the last three years. Students learn about energy access in developing countries and get hands-on experience of using solar panels, batteries, bulbs, fans, heaters and more. Calum Watkins of GCE says: “It has been a fantastic opportunity to inspire young people and get them thinking about engineering!”

Project aims and objectives

GCE applied for an enablement grant from the Scottish Government’s Community and Renewable Energy Scheme (CARES) for the ‘Glasgow Community Energy project’. The grant was used to commission a feasibility study looking at installing ground-mounted solar panels on vacant and derelict land in Glasgow, which accounts for 9% of the city’s areas.

The feasibility study concluded that this was not feasible, and so GCE set out to identify suitable council-owned buildings for roof mounted solar panels instead.

Outcomes and achievements

Glasgow Community Energy celebrating its solar panels

In 2020, GCE successfully installed solar panels on the roofs of two schools in Glasgow: Ashton Secondary School and Glendale Primary School / Bunsgoil Ghàidhlig Ghleann Dail.

These two installations produce 79,000 kWh of clean energy and will save nearly 50 tonnes of CO2 per year – helping Glasgow work towards its target to be carbon neutral by 2030.

Funding for the installations was provided by a CARES capital grant, SPEN’s Green Economy Fund, and by a Community Share Offer.

Following support from Local Energy Scotland, GCE received £77,149.95 from SPEN’s Green Economy Fund as part of the Solar Connected Communities project. This project saw a collective of community groups installing solar PV panels with secured Feed-in Tariff at the January 2019 rate.

GCE also received a very positive response to its Community Share Offer, exceeding its £30,000 target. It attributes this success to publicising the share offer on its media channels and to individuals who had previously registered interest in the organisation. The Pollockshields Trust, one of its partner organisations, created a short promotional video and hosted several drop-in zoom meetings for local people to learn more about the project and ask questions.

GCE wanted to make its project as accessible to local people as possible. It did this by lowering the minimum shareholding to £50, as well as informing members that those closest to the sites would be prioritised should more money that its target be raised.

GCE received completed share offer applications from 152 individuals and 26 community organisations. Its members will have the opportunity to influence and participate in future projects and the organisation is keen to explore new opportunities through its member base.

With the two sites now successfully generating energy, GCE receives Feed-in-Tariff payments and quarterly payments from Glasgow City Council for the solar energy that is used in the schools. GCE is now looking to support several community projects with these funds including The Pollokshields Trust’s community space, electric bike hubs and a community café and shop initiative at Ashton School.

Lessons learned

Calum Watkins, director of GCE, identified several lessons learned throughout the project, which has been delivered during the pandemic. Calum said:

“From the offset we were working with tight deadlines around the end of the Feed-in-Tariff (FiT). When projects like ours were held up by COVID-19 lockdowns, Local Energy Scotland and the Solar Connected Communities groups fed into consultations to extend the community FiT deadline. Extensions were granted which enabled the community solar projects to secure FiT, ensuring community benefit from their installations.

“However, even with a 12-month extension given to community organisations and a further six months added due to Covid, delays to finalising legal contracts put the timeline for drawing down the CARES funding in jeopardy right when our contractors were about to start putting in the panels. It came down to a few crucial weeks in summer 2020 to get the project up and running.”

GCE received support from Local Energy Scotland’s local development officers throughout the project. Calum said: “Local Energy Scotland staff provided excellent financial advice and support in making applications for funding, legal advice and we are currently working with them to identify new project opportunities.”

Calum adds: “We are also working with Energy4All, who have helped to develop 30 community energy cooperatives, with more in the pipeline. They create cooperatives by working with communities to develop renewable energy projects. Energy4All provide help and support all the way through the project.

“With this being our first project, we also recognised that some organisations were quite wary of partnering with us but now we have an established track record of delivering successful community projects, we hope future projects will be more straightforward.”

Calum adds: “I hope that we’ll see a real shift in society moving to sustainable energy options. It’s cool seeing this happening in our projects but these are often still demonstrators and have yet to be realised at scale. When people start seeing the opportunity for community-led local energy systems, we’ll be onto a winner.”

Visit Glasgow Community Energy’s website for more information.