Resource type: Case study

Communities for Renewables

Cornish based Renewable Energy Business Develops Unique Customer Portal

Communities for Renewables CIC logoCommunities for Renewables CIC (CfR) helps communities set up local energy enterprises and supports them to develop, finance and manage their own renewable energy generation. CfR also provides strategic advice to help develop and implement a wide range of local energy business models that help reduce energy spend, tackle fuel poverty and earn income to re-invest in the local community.

Set up in 2012, CfR is a Community Interest Company meaning any surplus profit is re-invested to support future community energy initiatives. Based at Tremough Innovation Centre is a team of experienced renewable energy professionals led by Managing Director Jake Burnyeat.

CfR has worked with over 30 local energy enterprises, local authorities and social landlords across the UK. Over the last few years it’s helped to develop and finance over £40million of community-owned solar projects ranging from solar PV panels on community buildings to one of the largest community-owned solar farms in the UK.

The Opportunity

CfR wanted to develop a web platform to improve and increase its service to their ‘local energy enterprise’ clients situated across the UK.

Jake Burnyeat explains:

“Our plan is to develop a local energy company and asset management platform and service offering. The web platform will provide clients with all the tools needed to monitor the performance of their renewable energy installations, administer their companies and communicate with their members, their local community and each other. The platform will create a network of local energy enterprises working together to develop and roll out local energy business models – the ‘Local Energy Collective’.”

The Solution

Digital Business Adviser, Paul Bartell, met with Jake to discuss how digital technology could support the development of the business further. The team took advantage of workshops and masterclasses including ‘Technology for Business Growth’, ‘Using WordPress’ and ‘Staying Safe, Secure and Legal’. A website review was also carried out which provided useful suggestions to improving the user experience.

Superfast Business Cornwall provided funding towards the costs of a private sector ICT specialist to scope out their web portal project and Digital Business Enabler, Mike Roberson, worked with CfR to project manage the development and build of the platform.

This included exploring potential solutions before finalising the requirements and researching possible ICT suppliers. As part of the solution research we provided a specialist to undertake specific product research and this work helped CfR make an informed final development platform choice.

The Impact for Communities for Renewables

The platform and associated service offering is unique in the UK local energy market. The growth opportunity is both with existing local energy enterprises and other new local energy enterprises and projects being developed. CfR will provide company and asset management support off the back of the platform, with service offerings ranging from a fully managed service to a subscription-only service that enables clients to self-manage their activities via the platform.

The business has already created one job as a result of this digital project and is likely to have a couple more vacancies in the future, as Jake continues:

“More company and asset manager jobs at CfR could be created in Cornwall by July 2020. We have already taken on 3 more single megawatt-scale project clients and aim to have taken on at least 2 more by the end of 2019 with 50% growth the following year. There is significant further growth potential if we find there is demand in the local authority and farmer-owned renewable energy sector and/or community energy sectors outside of the UK.“

Mike Robertson says:

“CfR is a great organisation to work with. Their project has also provided employment opportunities for highly skilled IT specialists to develop the platform. They have ambitious plans for future development which I am sure they will be successful with.

We have already seen tangible benefits to the business as they have secured two new contracts and the professional monitoring platform was key in securing these new opportunities. There are other opportunities that are likely to convert to clients in the near future.

This investment has resulted in immediate returns for the business and it is pleasing to see our investment making a difference so early in the project.”

The service will help existing and new community energy enterprises to expand their businesses, by freeing up resource from administration to business development. Therefore, it will indirectly support social entrepreneurs and help generate economic benefit and the jobs sector.

Adopting Digital Technology in your business

If you think your business could benefit from providing a web portal for your suppliers or customers, then you need to consider what purpose the portal would serve. Take a look at our guide: Developing the right system specification for your business which gives useful tips on how to identify and document your business objectives both for now and in the future.

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Funded by ERDF, Superfast Business Cornwall provides a fully funded programme of support to help businesses understand, adopt and exploit digital technology for growth. Delivered by a small team of experienced Digital Business Advisers, the service offers 1-2-1 impartial advice, website reviews, workshops for small groups and advice on connectivity to Superfast Broadband. Grant funding may also be available for new digital projects which help businesses grow and create jobs.

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