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Rooftop solar case study: Ashwater, Devon

Solar panels on a roof in Ashwater, Devon
The solar panels on the village hall powers the village shop as well as the hall itself

Nestled in a remote area of north-west Devon, the Ashwater Parish Hall is prime example of a successful community-led rooftop solar project. Find out more about the project here.

A no-brainer decision

Needing to find a more affordable energy source, the parish hall committee installed rooftop solar panels in 2010. The decision was a no-brainer according to Ivan Buxton, hall spokesperson. It offered a clean energy source without affecting the picturesque surroundings, and lower energy costs.

Initially, the hall hosted a dozen panels but, a year later, an additional six were added to power the community shop in the hall grounds. The initial expectation was that the project would be cost-effective within six to eight years. Thanks to generous government subsidies for feed-in tariffs available at the time, it lived up to expectations. The solar panels earned £17,000 over 12 years, with any excess electricity generated sold back to the grid for a profit. The benefits of rooftop solar have trickled down to the community, resulting in lower rental costs for the hall and powering the community shop.

Ivan talked about how the rooftop solar project also led to a sense of greater community cohesion. ‘It brought the community together. Previously, it was a bit more fractioned, but we pulled them all together and had a number of regular events well-supported by the community.’

Some concerns remain, such as rising electricity rates and practicalities of battery storage. Indeed, as of 2023, the parish are raising funds for more panels to offset the high cost of energy.

Looking to the future

Ivan believes there are added barriers to rolling out rooftop solar for communities, including lack of funding from local and national government. This is an issue for individuals too. ‘The problem is still the cost. The majority of people in the countryside can’t afford £5,000 for a set of panels.’ More broadly, disincentives such as business rates and tax charged on solar panels remain a barrier. What compounds the problem, Ivan says, is the lack of community say in the decision-making process on solar projects.

Despite these challenges, Ivan remains optimistic. ‘Our solar project snowballed from setting up a committee to raise money to maintain the hall and the shop, to securing funding for other projects. If we act as a community, the community can benefit,’ he says. In terms of reconciling the need to move to green energy while protecting green spaces, Ivan thinks there’s a lot of potential. ‘There are endless possibilities for renewable energy that doesn’t impact on the countryside.’

Watch the video

Find out more about the rooftop solar project in Ashwater by watching the video below. View the video transcript here.