Renewable energy grants for housing associations: the case of Saxon Weald
Housing associations are in a great position to make the most of renewable energy systems. By applying for grants from the Rural Community Energy Fund, they can obtain the fundings they need to support their communities in spending less on their energy and heating bills and demonstrate sustainability leadership.
Converting garages to solar electric vehicle charging station
Saxon Weald is a housing association operating across Sussex and Hampshire, providing approximately 6000 homes for rent and for sale in the area. They wanted to assess the feasibility of repurposing the commercial garages to attract additional revenue streams. Saxon Weald successfully applied for the RCEF grant and developed a scope of work, analysing the garage portfolio for the potential to convert some units to solar electric vehicle charging stations, and to retrofit solar PV to units in good condition.
We were appointed as the contractor for this scope of work.
We started this piece of work with a detailed study of the portfolio of around 70 garages. This included satellite image analysis of the locations and condition of the garages, and the proximity to other buildings. We worked with Saxon Weald Asset Managers to assess the condition of the garages – these range from older stock with failing structures to recently build high spec units. The sites are also distributed across Saxon Weald’s area of operation, from Southampton up to Crawley, and from villages to individual isolated locations without electricity supply. From this assessment, we categorised each garage as potential sites for solar carports and/or retrofit solar PV.
In addition to the desk-based analysis, we conducted site visits to a shortlist of sites that were representative of the portfolio. We assessed structural condition, orientation and shading risk, any security issues, and also surface conditions, which are an important factor in estimating the cost of groundworks for EV infrastructure. Getting boots on the ground also enabled us to get a good sense for the likely uptake in EV charging and parking at the sites.
We used our in-house tools to size the retrofit PV sites, accounting for local solar irradiation, loading criteria, private wire connections, and capital cost. We conducted a cost-benefit review for additional battery storage at the sites. We then assessed the revenue streams associated with installing solar PV – including feed-in tariff and export payments from central government; income from electricity sales to neighbouring buildings; and increased revenue from garage rental fees for more desirable units.
Creating projects that have an impact on the community
To build the business case for converting garages into solar electric vehicle charge points, we analysed the current market condition and projections in EV sales and charging infrastructure rollout. We interviewed investors, technology suppliers, local authority officers, industry specialists and EV users to fully inform our analysis and recommendations. Given the pace of change in this industry, there is a degree of uncertainty in how demand for EV charging will change in future; our modelling took a conservative view, and accounted for a number of revenue streams, building resilience for Saxon Weald in these investment projects.
We identified two sites from the shortlist where retrofit PV would be immediately viable, generating ROI of 50-60%. A further two sites from the shortlist were also identified as priorities for solar carports, with ROI of 35-50%, and significant local benefit to EV drivers. There is also potential to collaboration with public sector partners and technology providers through these projects.
Based on the analysis of the shortlisted sites, we then scaled the opportunity for retrofit PV and carports across the whole portfolio of 70 sites. Our modelling suggests that there is potential to double the revenue generated by the garage portfolio through retrofitting solar PV, and converting key sites to carports – a huge benefit to the housing association and their tenants.
As well as demonstrating Saxon Weald’s commitment to the wider sustainability agenda, the financial benefit will contribute to ongoing improvement works across the stock, ensuring that tenants can afford to heat, eat and pay their rent.
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