Ashden winners invest in the future 

By Max Mace, Communications team intern
Two former Ashden Award winners OVESCO and Ringmer College are working hand in hand to sustain community energy in East Sussex.

In 2008 Ringmer Community College near Lewes was the first secondary school to win an Ashden Award with its wind turbine and solar PV array installations and its fantastic student Eco Reps who monitor energy use throughout the school.

Six years later local community energy company OVESCO, who use their know-how to give residents the opportunity to invest in locally generated renewable energy and help similar groups start up across the country, won an Ashden Award and it was only a matter of time before the two winners joined forces.

The duo first met in 2011 through Transition Town Lewes, a network of local people creating community responses to the challenge of climate change, and the relationship between the college and OVESCO has continued to grow ever since.

Our LESS CO2 programme for schools, supported by Bank of America Merrill Lynch, also had a part to play. The programme, established in 2010, was created in response to requests from schools for practical, hands-on support to help them make the changes they need to reduce their energy bills and to help build a low-carbon future. 

Stephen Green, Ringmer’s Environmental Coordinator, is a LESS CO2 mentor who advises other schools in the East Sussex clusters, and helped to engage OVESCO to speak at some of the programme’s workshops­­­­­ about the benefits of renewable energy sources in schools and, crucially, how to go about financing the transition to sustainable energy.

Given their geographic proximity and their shared interest in solar energy, it seemed only natural that Ringmer and OVESCO should work together on an ambitious project to benefit the local community. 

Last summer a 30kW PV array was installed on the college roof to supplement the existing renewable energy sources at the college which include a wind turbine, biomass boiler, ground source heat pumps and other PV arrays.

The decision to proceed with a joint solar PV venture was first talked about some 12 months ago and the financial details agreed in the spring. Ringmer College needed to raise £40,000 in total and, with OVESCO’s expert support and guidance, the total investment raised to date has already exceeded £51,000.  OVESCO are now considering using this excess capital to fund a further PV array on another local primary school.

What makes the project unique is that it is being funded through a community share offer that Business Studies students at the college are actively promoting.  It’s the students who have handled the publicity, letters to investors, website and the launch event. 

According to OVESCO director Chris Rowland: “We like working with schools and this is a great opportunity for staff, parents and the local community to literally invest in the future”.

At a time of anxiety over the future of clean energy in the UK and a world where global temperatures are on the rise, it’s heartening to see the effectiveness of community energy at work.  We must surely maintain and nurture more joint initiatives of this kind if we are to succeed in creating a low-carbon world.