Big Solar launches first large rooftop installation using sustainable solar

Concern over carbon emissions and forced labour in the global PV supply chain prompted the the co-op to source 750 ethical panels for its Shropshire site

Community energy non-profit Big Solar Co-op is launching its first large rooftop solar installation – and says it is using “sustainable and more ethical” solar panels after campaigners raised concerns over supply chains in the renewables industry.

Big Solar is installing panels on the roof of food processing plant Kerry T&N in Tenbury Wells, Shropshire. The total installation at Kerry T&N comprises approximately 750 panels with a capacity of over 300kW, which the co-op says is equivalent to over 1 million miles driven in an EV per year.

Kerry T&N, a major employer in South Staffordshire, hopes the reduction in operating costs resulting from the solar installation will help it continue to contribute to the local economy, especially at a time when other costs are rising sharply.

The panels were developed by Swiss company Meyer Burger, in response to rising concern over the transparency and ethics of the global solar industry and its supply chains since China became the leading global source of polysilicon, a key material in the manufacture of solar PV. Chinese factories are heavily reliant on electricity from coal, and many players in the solar industry operate in the Uyghur Region where there are reports of Indigeous people working in forced labour.

Meyer Burger previously made solar manufacturing equipment for others and in 2021 started its own panel production in Germany, using 100% renewable energy with a substantial proportion of polysilicon sourced from Germany and South Korea. The panels are also certified free from lead and PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) making them simple to recycle at the end of their life.

Jon Hallé, co-founder of Big Solar, who has blogged about ethical issues in the solar supply chain, said: “As champions of environmental and social justice and active participants in the solar industry, we need to both understand the supply chain issues and act on our findings.

“Our research brought us to Meyer Burger who are showing genuine leadership on the solar sourcing problem matched with real quantifiable progress. Meyer Burger panels combine very high quality and efficiency with a serious claim to be both the most ethical and greenest panels in the UK market. We’re proud to be pioneering their use in the UK market.”

Scott McDaniel, head of sales UK & Ireland for Meyer Burger, said: “Meyer Burger is on the way to proving that we can grow a viable solar PV industry in Europe. We couldn’t be more pleased that our first UK solar installation is with the Big Solar Co-op who have a genuinely innovative approach to community owned solar, helping businesses and communities increase their energy independence.” 

Kerry Baker, plant manager at Kerry T&N, said: “We’re very excited about our new rooftop solar panels which are cutting our carbon footprint as well as our energy bills, contributing to the future sustainability of the business. Working with the Big Solar Co-op has been a smooth, straightforward process and we are looking forward to a long-term productive relationship with them.”

Big Solar Co-op has already raised over £1m from over 500 investors and is currently raising funds from investors to carry out more similar installations through a rolling share offer. 

The share offer aims to pay investors a target annual return of 5%, or bank base rate + 2%, whichever is higher. The minimum investment is £100 and the maximum is £100,000. Share interest will be tax free for some shareholders under the Personal Savings Allowance scheme and shares can be passed on free of Inheritance Tax.

“We’ve got lots more large solar rooftops in our pipeline all across the country,” said Hallé. “Investing with us helps us to unlock the huge potential of co-operatively owned solar on community and commercial rooftops, powering the way forward to a low carbon future.”

Click here for more details of the share offer