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Green Great Britain Week blog series: Financing the low-carbon economy in Bristol

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Matthew Clayton, Managing Director of Thrive Renewables.

As part of Green Great Britain Week, we’re celebrating leadership and action in Bristol and the South West to tackle climate change and drive clean growth in the UK. Wednesdays theme is ‘Financing the low carbon economy’.

We invited Matthew Clayton, Managing Director of Thrive Renewables, to share his reflections on Thrive’s mission to bring individual investors together to power the transition to a sustainable energy future.

When Thrive Renewables, then called Wind Fund plc, launched back in 1994, the low-carbon economy was really not a thing. Back then, renewables accounted for less than 2% of electricity production in the UK. 24 years later, renewables produce almost one third of the UK’s electricity and we have grown our portfolio to 21 renewable energy projects.

We’ve made it our business to power the transition to a more sustainable future by harnessing mission-led capital and turning it into green energy and a sustainable return for our investors. Along the way we have learned many lessons about financing, building and operating renewable energy projects. In our experience, the essence is partnership and connectedness. Extreme flexibility is also vital; we are led by what the project needs to start generating clean, green energy. Our model allows us to own and operate the project ourselves, retain part ownership, or provide the long or short term finance needed to get it built and operating.

The exciting thing is, Bristol is brimming with potential, with vibrant community energy groups, conscious consumers and ethical businesses working together to achieve a carbon-neutral city by 2050. We’ve pulled together a few case studies to demonstrate some of the many different ways in which we can use the power of positive investment to finance the low-carbon economy and ensure local people have access to the social, environmental and financial benefits of generating clean, green renewable energy.

Flexibility – making it happen

As a Bristol-based company, we are keen to invest in the right projects locally. Back in 2012, we bought the rights to an 8.2MW wind farm at Avonmouth. The project had been initiated a decade earlier by Wessex Water subsidiary, Geneco, to provide renewable energy to power their own waste water treatment site. By the time planning consent was granted, they were already self-sufficient and had no need to develop the wind farm itself. We worked quickly and effectively with Wessex Water to purchase the site and build the project out. Just 13 months later the four turbines commenced generation and we own and operate the site to this day.

Connectedness

Using a completely different model, we are currently working on an initiative with Bristol-based renewable project developer, Aura Power, to offer fully-funded battery storage solutions to businesses using cutting-edge technology. We fund, install and manage the batteries to ensure maximum returns, and the host business benefits with savings on energy bills, reduced costs for peak usage periods and accessing additional revenue from grid services. The National Grid also gets extra flexibility and storage, ensuring that the energy generated by variable renewable sources like solar is not wasted.

We also work with community energy groups across the country, providing short-term funding to allow them to take advantage of opportunities to purchase wind and solar sites near them. Our Community Energy Funding Bridge enables them to purchase the project, then they fundraise themselves to ensure the profits stay local in the long term.

Partnership

Everything we do happens in partnership with other businesses and organisations. In August, we signed an agreement with Bristol Energy to sell them the renewable electricity produced by our Clayfords Wind Farm in Aberdeenshire. The single-turbine site will deliver approximately 2.26GWh of clean electricity, enough to power around 560 homes over the course of the contract. It is fantastic to see the financial and environmental benefits of the low carbon economy coming right back to Bristol allowing people here to make the switch to cleaner, greener electricity generated by a local business.

What next?

Bristol has pledged to become carbon neutral by 2050. Real, on the ground renewable energy projects like our wind farm at Avonmouth and the community energy solar sites across the city will play a huge part in this. The next big challenge in energy terms is financing and building renewable energy capacity that is not dependent on government subsidies which are coming to an end.  We intend to be at the forefront of demonstrating that subsidy free renewable electricity and heat projects can work in the UK.

We see ‘private wire’ sites as a huge opportunity here. Businesses like potato processor Greenvale in Cambridgeshire, where we have installed a wind turbine which provides as much as 75% of their electricity demand from the abundant local, renewable wind resource. The company is able to better manage operational costs, differentiate themselves in a competitive market and, importantly, maintain hundreds of local jobs provided at the facility. We would like to see projects like this, along with battery storage and more community energy initiatives happening in Bristol. We look forward to investing here in the city to make that happen.

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