In March 2022, Ripple Energy energised the UK’s first consumer-owned renewable generation site, a single wind turbine dubbed Graig Fatha, located in Coedely, South Wales.
The co-ownership structure allows individuals to buy shares of a renewable generation site for as little as £25. Participants will then receive money off of their electricity bills in accordance to the amount of cheap renewable energy produced by their share of the site
The 905 co-owners of the Graig Fatha have already experienced significant savings, with one individual in London reporting that their electricity bill only cost £1.50 in November 2022.
Since the first project, Ripple Energy has begun constructing another wind farm, consisting of eight turbines in Ayrshire, Scotland and announced its first solar project which will be based in England.
The increasing popularity of the projects is demonstrated by the ever-growing number of interested parties: the second wind farm is owned by 5,600 people, whilst the solar farm received 16,000 reservations during its seven day purchase priority window alone.
Current± spoke with Ripple Energy’s founder and CEO, Sarah Merrick, to discuss how co-ownership of renewable sites can shape the future of the energy system.
How did the idea for co-owned renewable generation sites take form?
I’ve worked in the renewable industry since the 2000s and have spent a lot of time in the regulation part of the industry. As we began moving into a post subsidy world, the industry was looking into how to carry on getting projects, bills, etc. and the collective response seemed to be to sell their power to Google and Facebook. It just seemed wrong to me that it was only companies at a scale similar to Google and Facebook that had the opportunity to directly access what had become the UK’s cheapest source of power.
From there, it was a very quick back-of-the-envelope calculation to work out how big a share of a wind farm a consumer would have to buy to be able to power their homes for 25 years. Once I saw how much cheaper it was than putting solar panels on your home, it seemed like an absolute no brainer.
I stood on it for a couple of years, thinking that somebody else would do it, but when nobody did, I gave up my job and worked full time to make it happen.
How has interest in Ripple Energy grown since the first project?
We’ve seen massive consumer uptake. I think people seeing the economic benefits of wind and solar is really important. There are very few other ways that you can protect yourself from the price spikes we’ve seen over the last 18 months; putting solar on your roof is one way of doing it, but that’s not suitable or possible for everyone.
I think people concerned about the risk of their bills going up as well climate change and they don’t think the government is doing enough, so they want to do something themselves and this is a really simple way for them to do it whilst receiving the benefits directly too. This means it really strikes a chord with people.
It can also help insulate businesses from wholesale prices. I think few businesses had realised that they could be under threat from energy prices in the way they have been, to the extent that shops and cafes have shut down because they can’t pay their electricity bill. I think this period has really been a wake up call that energy prices really matter and if you can protect yourself, it really makes sense to do so.
The products are really popular, people love them, and they want more of them, but there hasn’t really been an outlet for that. If you give people the opportunity to get involved they just love it. We’ve got a community forum on our website which has nearly 8,000 members and it shows that if you give people an opportunity to express their interest, they’re really engaged.
Why did you decide to move to solar?
Solar was a natural progression, we started with wind, because that’s where we had most experience but we always planned to broaden our range. We’ve even looked at hydro plants and any fuel free technologies really, because as soon as you introduce a fuel, you introduce fuel price risk.
This doesn’t mean we will exclusively be opening solar projects from now, it will always be the a mix.
How could co-owned renewable generation sites shape the UK energy market?
In terms of the energy market, I think it creates a new source of capital in a very uncertain world. It’s been known for years that a net zero economy is a more resilient economy because it’s not susceptible to fossil fuel price spikes. So on an individual level, if you’ve got a decarbonised household, that household is more resilient because it’s not at risk of volatile electricity prices; this distils it down on an individual basis. But the combination of millions of homes being protected means that the whole economy and society are protected as well.
It can also, we think, help with getting planning consent.
If a developer can say they want to build a wind farm or a solar park in your local area, and they will enable you to own part of the site, it completely shifts the view of local communities. At the moment, there’s not really any incentive to want a wind farm or a solar park built near you, which means there’s a bigger push from local communities for smaller, less ‘disruptive’ renewable generation sites. But if that renewable generation site is going to be owned by the community, they’ll want it to be the best wind or solar farm it can be.
We think that by enabling the local community to be a really active part in projects pre-consent, it can really shift the dial in terms of having communities embracing these technologies, but also, critically, enabling those projects and wanting those projects to be the best projects they possibly can be.
What does the future hold for Ripple Energy?
We want to launch more and more projects the UK and then we’re already looking at which other markets across Europe we can move into as well.
We’ve done our first stage of market research, we’re digesting the results of that, and then we plan to enter whichever markets we decide on from that data – this may be as soon as next year. We think the model can work in lots of different markets, so it’s just about choosing the right one first, and then building out a much bigger base.
Solar Power Portal’s publisher Solar Media will host the Renewable Energy Trading Summit on 6-7 June 2023 in London. The event will explore PPA structuring, revenue risk management strategies, renewable energy certificates, and much more. For more information, go to the website.