Case study

Community Owned Solar PV

Decerna (Decerna) supported the Sunderland Bangladeshi Centre (SBC) as part of their on-going company efforts to support community energy and an ERDF funded project running in the North East. The SBC run and manage various community based events throughout the year focused on promoting social & cultural cohesion within the Hendon area of Sunderland. Alongside this, the SBC also hire out large areas within the HQ for meetings, conferences and training sessions. Smaller areas within the building are also hired out for SMEs to use as office space and the SBC plan to expand this side of the business more in the future.

The directors of the SBC, who have been interested in deploying Solar Photovoltaics (PV) for some time, wanted an independent survey and PV feasibility completed for their building in Hendon. At the inception meeting, the idea of investigating renewable heat on site was also discussed and it was agreed that NDE would spend some time looking into this option too.  As part of the Sunderland Low Carbon Demonstration Project, a fully funded feasibility of solar PV and biomass was completed & delivered in June 2015.

Outline & objectives

An initial discussion with the SBC led to the decision to pursue roof mounted solar PV at the site. This was particularly favoured as it would help lower the high energy costs of the building whilst generating a predictable income for the community centre, a key advantage to a business which by nature has varying levels of monthly activity. By generating electricity via renewable energy, the environmental impact of the site would also be significantly lowered. After a site visit and review of aerial imagery and existing plans for the site, 2 scenarios for PV development were outlined; a system deployed on just the West facing roof and a system deployed across both the West and the East facing rooftops. The SBC had some knowledge of the various Feed-In Tariffs (FITs) - the financial inventives which were available at the time for for solar PV generation in the UK, prior to the Smart Export Guarantee - and were interested in looking at 2 systems of different scale that would draw upon their own separate subsidy mechanisms. As the heating costs for the building were also very high, the SBC were interested in getting a brief introduction to how biomass could be deployed on site to replace the existing gas fired heating system.

The objectives were to look at the financial & practical feasibility of both solar PV systems, outlining a financial model for each which would take into account initial outlay, the Feed-in Tariff payments, grid avoidance and maintenance costs for the site. Concurrently to this activity, NDE were to briefly investigate the heat demand of the building and look into completing a pre-feasibility study for biomass powered heating on site; an estimate of the costs and benefits of deploying Biomass was to be included in the report.


The report was issued to the client in June 2015 and summarised the financial and practical viability of 2 roof mounted solar PV installations: a 10kWp system (operating under the MCS-Feed in tariff) and an 81kWp system (operating under the ROO-Feed in Tariff). Initial costs of each system and forecast maintenance costs of the system were calculated based on a 20 year lifespan. The report summarised how SBC would go about installing the systems and once deployed, how they would perform. Irradiance for the postcode of the building was calculated and the annual generation was forecast for the site based on the MCS (Microgeneration Certification Scheme) methodology. CAD software was also used to help the client picture how the deployment would fit in with the surrounding environment.

A simple payback model was also constructed looking into the basic costs of the system: installed cost of each system, when the system would be paid back, how much it would cost to maintain and how much it would profit over the 20 year project lifespan. Alongside this, detailed information from the client on energy use on site allowed NDE to forecast the energy demand over the course of the year. Using this information, grid avoidance was calculated and the savings on avoiding ‘brown’ electricity from the national grid were incorporated into the model. When the site was not being used during daylight hours for day-to-day office work, functions and events, the export tariff (paid on top of each systems’ FiT) was also calculated.

Engineers at NDE also conducted a pre-feasibility study of biomass deployment on site. The existing heating system was reviewed and evidence on the varying annual heat demand was gathered. Following heat loss calculations, a containerised biomass in the region of 100kW was specified for the site and although it was deemed that this would be a suitable replacement for the existing heating system, the SBC expressed that they would prefer to look into solar PV. If at a later date the heating system is decommissioned and a replacement is needed, SBC will have a useful background to the feasibility of biomass on site.

The findings of the PV report have helped to better inform the SBC on how viable solar PV is on site. With a large, commercial rooftop available with good orientation and pitch for solar generation, the financial model under both MCS-FIT & ROO-FIT was particularly good. Since the support was provided by NDE, the SBC have since made an application to fund a solar PV installation on the rooftop.

Client testimonial

Martin Booth, Business Development Officer at the Sunderland Bangladeshi Centre had this to say about the support:

“We are working with Sustainable Sunderland on a funding bid [to deploy the solar PV on site].  The Sunderland Bangladeshi Centre are very grateful to Narec Distributed Energy for producing the report which we hope to be able to implement at some point over the next year or two if we can raise the funds to pay for the installation costs.  We are also grateful for the practical help and advice that you gave with the heating system, heating controls and in relation to general energy usage”.

Further information

The Sunderland Low Carbon Energy Demonstration project is a £3.9 million investment in a low carbon social housing project which aims to reduce energy costs and tackle fuel poverty, while also contributing to local and national carbon reduction targets. Narec Distributed Energy are providing fully funded business support, consultancy and training to Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs) in Sunderland (including sole traders) to improve their capacity, skills and environmental management. Helping to meet the growing demand for low carbon and renewable energy measures.

Narec Distributed Energy provide various services for community, commercial and industrial buildings, in order to reduce their carbon footprint and operational costs.

We work on various community energy projects, specifically currently supporting community groups through our ERDF project BEST, and also working on various Rural Commmunity Energy Fund (RCEF) projects.