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How to get a grant for solar panels: tips from a community shop

Posted by Cathy Debenham on 25 July 2011 at 9:46 am

Solar PV panels have cut energy bills by around 15% at Dalwood Community Shop in Devon. With four freezers to run, energy bills are its largest outgoing, so the long and involved process of seeking grants to install them was worthwhile according to co-ordinator Shelagh Beak.

As well as lower bills, the shop has an income of £850 a year from the feed in tariff, and saves about a tonne of carbon each year.

The solar panels are generating a lot of interest in the community, as well as generating electricity. There is a digital display in the shop, showing savings made, which updates every 10 minutes, and as a result, installer Naturalwatt has received lots of requests for information.

The community shop, which is based in two converted garages, started with an energy assessment from Renewable Energy 4 Devon (RE4D). They recommmended solar PV panels, as well as increased loft insulation and replacing lighting with low energy bulbs. As well as reducing energy use, these latter two measures later turned out to be conditions of getting a grant.

The installation of 12 PV panels cost £9,630 (net of VAT) and was funded by grants from Making it Local and RE4D (half from each). Below is Shelagh Beak's advice on getting funding for other community groups, based on what she's learned from the process:

"Some of my next remarks may seem obvious but they are very relevant to a successful conclusion." she says:

•    Make sure you have fully researched the project and the benefits to the community.
•    Grant bodies have money which they wish to distribute but it is a very competitive business and it is not just the best project that wins but the one which can prove it is the best.

•    With local funders the subjects can be very wide ranging. Money is coming from Rate and Tax payers, sometimes even the EU and they have to justify their decisions.
•    Energy grants can be obtained from energy providers like EON and EDF. Here the competition is on a nationwide scale, but sometimes the amount they will give is more than 50%.
•    I can’t emphasise enough the need to read the guidance notes provided with any application.
•    Give the answers they want, not what you want to tell them. Read your answers several times with time in between. Often after re-reading you think of a better way to word the answer.
•    The forms should give you an area to explain your background but remember they have no idea who you are or what you do, but they only want information relevant to the application.
•    Try to get a few appropriate letters of support. If you can connect to a local school or educational scheme this is very useful.
•    Make sure you have all the documentation they require such as quotes and assessments.
•    Once the form is completed ask someone who knows about the application, but is independent, to read it over. Also give them the guidance notes. Sometimes they see things you have missed or that are not clear.
•    Once the forms are complete I always draw up a check list. It is a reminder for all the documents required and it also shows them from the beginning you have everything they have asked for.
•    There is no harm in applying to several grant bodies at the same time but some of them require more information than others. For our MIL application we had to supply a constitution and our legal status!
•    Most funders will only pay claims retrospectively or in tranches if the project is big. Make sure you have capital in place before you start.
•    The claim forms can be as daunting as the application forms. Soon after I had completed our claim forms I did a report for the Energy Saving Trust Newsletter and jokingly said EDF would not have needed to supply much more information to build a nuclear power station! I was a bit embarrassed when they kept it in, but they said it was a valid point.


If you have a question about anything in the above blog, please ask it in the comments section below.

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1 comments - read them below or add one


Zero2050Comment left on: 25 July 2011 at 12:09 pm

It's great to see good community projects working well and being able to access funding, congratulations.

I just wanted to highlight the benefit of having an energy audit prior to specifying the renewable solution.  It is vitally important to ensure things like insulation,  equipment and behaviour are effective as it will often mean you can specify a smaller (and cheaper...) solution.

One item that I have recently come across that  may also help in this instance is an eCube that works on your freezer/fridge thermostat and can lead to some fairly good energy savings.

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