Update – July 2016

Downlands solar project news & a new project planned

The sun is shining on our recently cleaned solar panels at Downlands, with the two systems regularly getting close to their maximum output when the clouds clear.  Now that the panels have been installed for 17 months, we can review the data for a whole year and more, and make comparisons about how this year compares to last year.

Our first full year of generation covered the period from April 2015 to March 2016, with total generation in this period being 80,279 kWh.  This is very close (99.4%) to the projected figure of 80,731 kWh.  As we have reported previously, the problem of seagulls fouling the panels is of on-going concern, and without this problem we believe the yearly output would have comfortably exceeded the projected figure.
This year has seen another significant influence on the performance of the panels – i.e. the distinct lack of sunshine for protracted periods!  The effect of this year’s poor weather can be seen in the comparison of the generation in the period March – June in 2016 (37,705 kWh) compared to 2015 (40,881 kWh) – indicating an 8% drop in this year’s output to date.

One benefit of the poor weather this year has been that the majority of the panels have been effectively cleaned by the periods of heavy rain.  However this has still left us with concerns how best to respond to the heavy seagull fouling in certain areas (the seagulls particularly like some areas on the highest roofs). We’ve been getting mixed messages about how effective the bird deterrent devices (see photo below) are, and we are now into a period of monitoring to allow decisions to be made.

To add to the concerns about the seagulls, the deterrent on the sports centre roof was damaged in the gales at Easter and has had to be repaired.  Also we decided to move the deterrent on the main school to be nearer the location favoured by the seagulls. In addition we are taking further advice from the supplier of the deterrent devices to help us decide if any further actions need to be taken.

A new project under development

As you will know, changes in the feed-in tariff and other government policy changes have made solar more challenging for us, though we haven’t given up on it yet.  In the meantime our search for new renewable energy projects in our area has taken us into the area of renewable heat.

Renewable heat is a way of heating buildings from renewable sources rather than oil or gas.  It’s important in terms of reducing carbon emissions as about a third of our national annual carbon emissions are generated from heating systems.  The government provide support via the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme, which has not been cut back drastically in the way that support for solar PV generation has.

Renewable sources for heat include biomass like wood or special grasses (burned in boilers in much the same way as coal – indeed the Drax power plant in North Yorkshire is in process of converting from coal to biomass), anaerobic digesters (fans of The Archers will be familiar with controversies over these), air source heat pumps, and the source we are investigating, ground source heat pumps.

Ground source heat pumps work like a fridge in reverse – through fluid-filled pipes in a continuous ground loop or deep bore holes they take heat from underground which is then used to evaporate the refrigerant fluid in the heat pump (see diagram below). The refrigerant vapour then passes through a compressor that raises its pressure and temperature before passing to the condenser section of the heat pump, where the vapour condenses back to a fluid, giving up its heat to the working fluid used to heat your building.
Typically, a well-designed system will produce 4 kWh of heat energy for every 1 kWh of electrical energy used by the heat pump. In many applications there is also a significant potential benefit in being able to run the system in ‘reverse cycle’, allowing buildings to be cooled in hot weather.

We are now investigating a ground source heat system that would serve Downlands School and sports centre (powered by electricity – partially at least – from our solar panels), and Windmills School.  As a large and complex project it would benefit from a feasibility study.  We have just applied for a grant for such a study from the Rural Community Energy Fund, and hope to hear in September whether we have been successful.  If we get the grant we will contract with OST Energy in Brighton, an international technical consultancy on renewable energy, to investigate the feasibility in both technical and financial terms of such a project.

Part of the feasibility study will be consulting with our community about the plans, to gauge both local support/opposition and also interest in future investment. We’ll let you know about plans for open meetings closer to the time.

Chris Handel, Chair             John Willis, Secretary
Nick Owens, Treasurer        Juliet Merrifield, Director
Bec Hanley, Director            Darren Berman, Director

heat pump diagram  bird scarer

Update – March 2016

Reasons to be cheerful

In January and February this year we had meetings for members and supporters to hear from speakers about developments in renewable and community energy.  They gave us a lot of reasons to be cheerful as we look ahead to further work in our community.

In January, Will Cottrell, CEO of the Brighton Energy Co-op talked about their £1m of new community-funded solar PV projects in Sussex and Kent.  As one of the earliest community energy groups, Brighton Energy Co-op has witnessed the significant growth in community energy over the last 5 years.  That’s being challenged by recent government changes, and Will talked us through the changes and their impacts.  However, Will remains optimistic and expects new business models to emerge.

In February, Jonathan Gaventa, an HKD Energy investor and a director of the E3G environmental thinktank, talked about the ‘extraordinary transition’ to clean energy.  The pace of change is demonstrated by China, which has more wind and solar power than any other country, and in the next 14 years is planning new clean energy infrastructure generating 800-1,000 GW, equivalent to the entire European power system.

While energy systems have traditionally been seen as expensive, large pieces of kit that take years to build, solar and other low carbon alternative energy is more likely to be small and decentralised, and installed directly by consumers.  In the last few years the UK has seen:

  • Renewable electricity generation increasing faster than in sector-leaders Germany
  • Carbon emissions dropping (in part from closing old coal-fired power plants)
  • Energy demand falling (mainly because of energy efficiency measures)

Even with small and local energy generation, connections to a wider grid are important and can help the transition to clean energy, because they move electricity around large areas and can smooth out demand and supply.  For example, this winter has seen record wind energy generation, and this can go south where solar has not been doing so well.

Our final speakers were Chris Rowland and Nick Rouse from OVESCo, both also directors of the new Meadow Blue Community Energy, which recently raised over £1.2m in a share issue for a large 5MW solar farm near Chichester.  This represents a significant ‘scaling up’ for community energy, from relatively small rooftop projects.  Meadow Blue is financed by the share issue, bank loans and they hope from an investment by West Sussex County Council.  Once built the farm will be a wildflower meadow with sheep grazing.  Looking ahead, Chris said he expected solar rooftop projects to continue to be built, although with changes in the business model.

HKD Energy directors are developing our strategy for moving forward, despite the government policy changes.  We have some projects under review and will communicate more about these when they are further developed.

Thanks to all of you for your continuing interest and support.

Community Energy: Ways Forward

Please join us for our meeting on Monday 29 February 2016

Community energy: ways forward

7.30 – 9 pm, Monday 29 February 2016
Proper Coffee, 26 Keymer Rd, Hassocks BN6 8AN

Jonathan Gaventa, Director of E3G, a think-tank working to accelerate the transition to a low-carbon economy, will talk about creating a zero carbon energy system for Europe, and the implications for community energy projects.

Chris Rowland, Director of OVESCo, will share their experiences of developing a large solar farm near Chichester, in partnership with Mongoose Energy, and the potential for community energy projects to ‘scale up’.

Refreshments will be available



Update – October 2015

AGM of HKD Energy

HKD Energy’s first AGM is on Tuesday 17 November from 6 pm to 8 pm in the Schering Suite at Downlands School.

Downlands School

Our Downlands Solar project continues to generate electricity from the sun, though as the days shorten the production will decline.  As of 30 September our panels on the school and sports centre have generated 66,874 kWh, so in about 6 months we have generated 83% of what we expected to generate in the course of a year.  A very good place to be, despite the best efforts of the seagulls to foul the top row of panels on the sports centre.  Cleaning and bird deterrents are to be installed at half term.  (Detail comparisons indicate the main school is running at about 5% above the projected output, whereas the sports centre has dropped to almost 5% below the projected figures – confirming the need for panel cleaning and bird deterrents. Overall the total generation is 1.4% greater than projected.)

The TiGo monitoring system gives us some interesting equivalents for the generation from the panels up to 30 September – it is equivalent to removing 266 vehicles from use, and is sufficient energy to boil almost 700,000 kettles.  The really impressive figure is that 35 tonnes of CO2 have been saved, equivalent to 1,145 trees planted.

Future plans

For those of us committed to shifting to a renewable energy system these are frustrating times.  A consultation paper issued by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) threatens to cut the Feed In Tariff rates by 87% as of January 2016 – or even to end them altogether.  The consultation has not yet finished so no final policy changes have been announced, but the prognosis for the solar energy industry is not good.  Already 3 large solar installation companies have gone into administration, including our local and pioneer company Southern Solar (founded by Howard Johns who spoke at our Downlands launch).

This uncertainty about government policy has made it difficult to proceed with our plans for new projects.  We have several sites under consideration, and once we know government policy we can evaluate their financial viability.  It seems likely that future projects will need to be sites that use all the solar electricity they generate (so schools and other sites with heavy daytime use will be ideal) since the income from exporting to the grid will be quite small.  Interest in ways to store the electricity generated in the daytime for use at night will also increase significantly.

As a community energy project we are committed to finding ways to move to renewable energy sources: the government is not making that easy, but we’ll keep working on it.

Meanwhile there are other community energy projects in our area with current or upcoming share offers, including:

Thanks to all of you for your interest and support of this project.

Update – September 2015

Our Downlands solar panels have been producing well (despite the mixed summer weather).  Since they came online in early March to the end of August the panels generated 59,346 kWh of electricity — more than 16 houses typically use over an entire year.  On normal school days almost all the power is used by the school, whereas at weekends and during the holidays surplus electricity is exported into the grid. We exported an average of 14% from March to June, but in July and August we exported 27%.

Overall, we saved more than 30 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent from going into the atmosphere — like plucking 245 vehicles from the road or planting over 1,000 trees. The school has saved more than £3,200 in electricity costs since the beginning of March, funds that we know they’ll put to good use in these times of budget cuts.

But we need your help.  The government’s Feed In Tariff (FIT), which is crucial to making our project work financially, is under threat for new projects from January 2016 (https://econsultation.decc.gov.uk/office-for-renewable-energy-deployment-ored/fit-review-2015).  DECC has proposed an 87% cut, from an expected 12.47p per unit for the smallest installations down to 1.63p per unit.

The solar industry has been a success story, with 670,000 solar homes in the UK already, and it is reported that 80% of the British public support solar.  Will you contact your MP and let them know that you support (and/or have invested in) our community energy project and want there to be more of them?

Key points you may wish to make are:

  • The DECC proposals will decimate the solar industry just at the time when it is close to being independent.  The Solar Trade Association had already proposed a strategy to be subsidy-free by 2020, at a cost of only £1.69 per year to household bills.
  • The UK’s renewable energy industry is a source of sustainable jobs: 34,000 jobs across the country in mostly small and medium sized businesses are now at risk.
  • Climate change makes it urgent for us to transition away from fossil fuels as soon as possible: the DECC proposals will make this much harder.
  • Community energy projects like ours give people a direct stake in the transition to a low-carbon economy, but similar new schemes still need some FIT support to be viable.

You can also sign a petition to Parliament on https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/106791 (already with over 15,000 signatures) and/or this petition https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/stop-the-uk-government-killing-off-the-uk-solar-industry (with over 29,000 signatures).  You can find out more about the issues on http://www.ashden.org/blog/proposed-feed-tariff-cuts-what-will-happen-uk-renewable-energy-industry .

In other HKD Energy news, at Downlands seagull guano is affecting the top rows of panels on the Sports Centre roof (the others seem fine) and we’re getting some spinning deterrents installed soon along with an extra clean of the panels.  August’s heavy rains have actually been quite helpful in cleaning most of the panels for us!  We commissioned an independent engineer’s report on the problem with one of the panels that was dislodged from the Sports Centre roof, and this has now been received.  It is reassuring that they found that the additional measures to secure the panels mean that the system is secure, and have made a number of recommendations to the installers for additional steps to make the installation the best it can be.  We are now asking the installers to implement these measures without delay.

Thanks to all of you for your interest and continuing support of HKD Energy.

Chris Handel, Chair                 John Willis, Secretary
Juliet Merrifield, Treasurer       Darren Berman, Director
Bec Hanley, Director

HKD Energy  (www.hkdenergy.org.uk)
Also follow us on Twitter @hkdenergy and on Facebook www.facebook.com/HKDEnergy

Downlands School solar project update

In the very high winds on Wednesday 6 May one of the solar panels on the Downlands Sports Centre roof became dislodged.  Our understanding is that such incidents are extremely rare.  Along with the school and Solar Resources who installed the system we are very concerned about this incident, especially since the system was designed to withstand winds up to 150 mph.  Solar Resources staff have taken immediate action to investigate what happened, and to put in place an additional perimeter mounting system that will provide extra security for all the panels on the roof.  We have requested a full written report from Solar Resources and are working closely with the school to ensure the continued safety and security of everyone on site.  Both HKD Energy and Downlands School are committed to continue to work as a partnership, and we intend to have an independent engineer confirm the system’s safety.

Chris Handel, Chair                 John Willis, Secretary
Juliet Merrifield, Treasurer       Darren Berman, Director
Bec Hanley, Director

HKD Energy  (www.hkdenergy.org.uk)
Also follow us on Twitter @hkdenergy and on Facebook www.facebook.com/HKDEnergy

Update – April 2015


A sun cake was the centrepiece for our celebration of the solar project at Downlands School on 20 March.  Investors, supporters, school staff and pupils gathered in the school hall to mark the installation of 307 solar panels on the school and sports centre roofs.  The MP for Arundel and South Downs, Nick Herbert, said he hoped that other schools and community buildings would be able to benefit from solar energy in this way. ‘This incredibly positive project shows how the potential of solar energy can be realised as well as the power of community schemes which harness local support.’
School Head Teacher Rose Hetherton said how much the school valued the project, both for the money it will save them over the next 20 years, in a time when budgets are very tight, and for the environmental benefits.

HKD Energy director Chris Handel said that in the 3 weeks since the system was turned on it had already generated 4,000 kilowatt hours of electricity, enough to boil 40,000 kettles of water!  He thanked Tim French, CEO of Solar Resources, the company that installed it.

One of the 48 local investors, Prof. Fred Maillardet, spoke about why he had supported the project, and drew parallels with the Oldlands Mill, which had generated the energy needed in its day.

A website tracking the electricity production of the solar panels was introduced by Phil Cole, Eco Coordinator for the school, who pointed out the effect of the solar eclipse earlier that day.  He showed how data from the panels would be used in maths and science study at the school.

We are very pleased at the level of information available from the TiGo monitoring system, but there is a down side – we know that three of our panels need some attention! In one case at least we think the seagulls may be the problem.  Despite these worries, the performance of the panels to date is impressive.  A number of individual panels have shown outputs of up to 275 Watts, comfortably more than their rated output of 260 Watts, and both the main school and sports centre systems have given peak outputs that match or are close to their rated maximum outputs.

The total generation to date from both systems now exceeds 12,000 kilowatt hours, with CO2 saved of more than 6 tonnes.  It is encouraging to note that this performance is approximately 7% better than predicted.

Thanks to all of you for your interest and support of this project.



Chris Handel, Chair                 John Willis, Secretary
Juliet Merrifield, Treasurer       Darren Berman, Director
Bec Hanley, Director

HKD Energy  (www.hkdenergy.org.uk)
Also follow us on Twitter @hkdenergy and on Facebook www.facebook.com/HKDEnergy

February Update on HKD Energy

The panels have arrived!  Our 307* panels for Downlands School have arrived at the docks, ready for installation to start on Saturday 14 February.  The weather forecast is not too bad for half-term week — rain wouldn’t stop play but ice and snow would!  In order to get the panels up while the school is closed Solar Resources and their installation team from PDP Solar are planning to work the weekends as well as half-term week.  It will be a challenge to get everything done in time, but a week of decent weather would really help.

(* The number of panels has been finally determined by panel availability, with individual panels now to be rated at 260 watts.  Earlier figures for the number of panels related to either 250 or 300 watt panels.)

If all goes well the panels will be in place and starting to generate electricity by 23 February.  However, the full commissioning process to get the FIT payments started will take a bit longer to get in place.

Once the panels are up we’ll be ready to celebrate the completion of our first project.  We’re planning a celebration event with Downlands School on Friday 20 March from 3pm to 5pm.  Please mark your diaries and join us if you can.

Did you catch the BBC’s Inside Out South programme on community energy from 2nd February?  It’s an interesting review of different kinds of energy projects across the south (hydro, wind and solar), and the issues involved.  If you missed it you can watch it on iPlayer at http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b0517vrg/inside-out-south-02022015

As our first project gets closer to completion we are thinking to the second project and beyond.  We’re identifying suitable buildings in our three villages, and looking at different models of business plans that could help us get solar panels on as many of them as possible over the next few years.  If you know of buildings (community buildings or commercial ones) that might be suitable please let us know so we can add them to our review list.

Chris Handel, Chair                 John Willis, Secretary
Juliet Merrifield, Treasurer       Darren Berman, Director
Bec Hanley, Director

HKD Energy January Update

Happy new year to all our supporters.  We’re hoping that 2015 will be the year of a strong shift away from fossil fuels and towards a low carbon energy system.  New Department of Energy and Climate Change statistics for Jul-Sep 2014 show renewables at 17.8% of the UK electricity mix, so we’re making progress.  Denmark is on 39% and Germany on 25% so we can do better.  Here at HKD Energy we’re playing our small part in helping make this shift.

Our 80kW solar system at Downlands School is on track for a February half-term installation.  The panels have been ordered, a deposit paid, and our investors are turning their pledges into reality by paying for their shares.  We’re looking forward to celebrating the completion of our very first project.

If you’re an investor you should have received an email from us around 18 December with your share allocation and request for payment.  We know a couple of people did not receive this email (perhaps it’s in your spam folder?), so if you didn’t receive it please get in touch with us ASAP so we can send again.  The deadline for payments is 14 January.

While wrapping up the final tasks on the Downlands School project, we are also in the planning stage of Project 2.  We are in discussion with Windmills Junior School, next door to Downlands, about installing solar panels on the roofs of their existing buildings.  This would be a smaller project, given the roof space available, but still would secure a long-term, low-carbon electricity supply for the school.  As plans develop we’ll have more details to share.

HKD Energy directors would love to hear your ideas of how to generate more of our villages’ energy needs locally from renewable sources, and how to reduce energy demand and keeping everyone warm and cosy with more energy efficient homes and businesses.  Do contact us with your ideas please.

HKD Transition is holding our annual ceilidh on Saturday 31 January, so do come and join us there if you can.  The wonderful Unreel Ceilidh Band will be playing and are guaranteed to get your feet tapping.  You don’t need to know the dances as the caller Penny Burton will talk everyone through the steps.  It’s at Ditchling Village Hall, 7.30-11.00, and a cash bar will feature locally brewed ale.  Tickets are on sale at Ditchling Post Office, or online with Paypal at hkdtransition.org.uk/buy-ceilidh-tickets/ .  Or just email us to secure your tickets.