Technology

Ways to buy your own wind or solar farm

 By Nicholas Newman

An increasing number of farmers, businesses and communities have invested and installed onsite generation solar or wind farms. Some have invested in large grid-scale renewable developments. A relatively recent trend combines direct ownership of onsite generation with indirect ownership, achieved by share purchases or by investment in dedicated investment trusts and funds…

Direct ownership

Significantly, farmers in the U.K., Australia, America and Europe have invested in onsite renewable energy projects to meet their own energy needs as well as to earn extra income from the sale of any surplus power to the grid. In the U.K. for instance, the owner of Gawcott Fields Farm in Buckinghamshire has installed a 9.17 MW Solar PV whilst Hall Farm in South Yorkshire has built a 24.6 MW wind farm comprising 12 x Senvion MM822.

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Solar Hall Farm (fginsight.com)

A broad spectrum of businesses have invested in renewable generation to power their head offices, factories and premises. Chief amongst IT companies are Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Intel; global retailers include IKEA, H&M; car manufacturers include BMW, VW, Renault, Toyota and Nissan. Manufacturing companies, such as Mars, Nestle, and Philips are reducing their energy bills with onsite generation. Nissan has installed 19,000 photo-voltaic panels to generate 4.75 MW facility alongside its 6.6 MW wind farm made up of ten turbines at its Sunderland car plant in England which together provide 7 percent of the plant’s electricity needs and saves the equivalent of 3,000 metric tons carbon emissions.
For those with shallow pockets, small-scale direct ownership is being helped by the development of a second-hand market in wind turbines by Second Hand Turbines in the U.K. and Dutchwind BV in the Netherlands which, since 2003, has sold and shipped hundreds of used wind turbines to many countries.

Renewable energy stocks

Indirect part-ownership of a renewable project is available to those purchasing shares in utility, oil majors or renewable energy companies. Buying shares in utility companies like Spain’s Iberdrola, France’s EDF and Germany’s E.on gives investors exposure to their renewable projects around the world.
Major energy companies including BP, Eni and Shell are increasing their investments in various renewables projects. Alternatively, buying shares in renewable energy companies such as wind-turbine manufacturer, Vestas Wind Systems (which has installed 17 percent of the world’s wind generating capacity of 539 GW ) or GE Renewable Energy, and Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy, is a route to part-ownership.

Investment funds

Instead of direct investment in renewables, many investors put money into investment trusts or dedicated funds such as Pictet Clean Energy, BlackRock Global New Energy and Guinness Alternative Energy. The £1.3 billion BlackRock GF World Energy fund returned 14.4 percent to its investors this is exceptional. According to the Financial Times September 2017 investment in renewables have not yet met investor’s expectations, despite increasing generating capacity in Europe and North America.

Community energy projects

Community energy schemes, in which local investors buy shares in a renewable development project, are on the increase. A group of Queensland farmers are behind the 450 MW Coopers Gap wind farm project, west of Brisbane which will have 123 turbines producing more than 1.5 million MW hours of renewable energy a year to drought-proof their farm’s future. In the U.K. near Oxford, Westmill Solar Co-operative, with 1,500 community investor members, generates 4.8 GWh per year of clean electricity. Middelgrunden Wind Turbine Cooperative, formed in 1997, partnered with the Copenhagen municipal utility to build 20 wind turbines of 2 MW capacity each, off the shore of Copenhagen.

Progress update – Coopers Gap Wind Farm Substation Construction (by AGL Energy)

Community benefits of renewable schemes

Across the world, investment in renewable projects has brought job creation, upskilling and financial benefits to nearby communities. Renewable projects are estimated to have created half a million new jobs in 2017 to add to the 3.4 million employed in solar projects and 1.5 million in wind generation according to the latest figures released by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). Interestingly, four-fifths of all renewable energy jobs in 2017 were located in Asia. In the U.S., shortages of wind technicians have stimulated training of redundant coal miners.

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Solar Holler and Coalfield Development offer training in solar panel installation in West Virginia

On a more local basis, it is increasingly common for renewable energy project developers to make financial, or in kind, payments to local communities. These ‘benefits payments’ or ‘compensation schemes’ are common practice in many countries. Who and how, people in the community benefit can be quite inventive. Many projects offer electricity at a discount to the nearby community, benefits can include grants to invest in energy efficiency or to tackle energy poverty and even provide funds for other community projects. A case in point is the Sawmills Solar farm in Devon U.K., where community payments financed a new super-fast broadband and free solar-generated electricity for a local primary school.
In South Africa, where government has fast-tracked renewable projects, it is mandatory for renewable project developers to cater to the socio-economic needs of their surrounding communities. A typical example is that of the 66 MW Hopefield wind farm, in the Western Cape, which has financed and trained unemployed local residents to install solar water heaters, insulated ceilings, extended plumbing and safe wires in low-income houses.
While total ownership of a renewable project is only possible for those with deep pockets, part ownership is possible by share ownership or investment in local projects, thus bringing employment and benefits to local communities.

READ MORESwimming solar the renewables of the future by Amanda Saint

about the author
Nicholas Newman
Freelance energy journalist and copywriter who regularly writes for AFRELEC, Economist, Energy World, EER, Petroleum Review, PGJ, E&P, Oil Review Africa, Oil Review Middle East. Shale Gas Guide. https://nicholasnewman.contently.com/