Microgenius goes live with hydro scheme

Published: 17 September 2012 at 14:25

Community shares platform, backed by Anglia Ruskin start-up cash, is first in UK

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A technology that kick-started the industrial revolution is being brought into the 21st century with the support of Microgenius, the UK’s first community shares platform focusing on renewable energy projects.

One of the first schemes to use Microgenius is a share offer launch by Sheffield Renewables, which aims to raise £250k towards its Jordan Dam hydro power initiative.

Cambridge-based Microgenius, backed by Anglia Ruskin University, is the brainchild of Emily Mackay.  Anglia Ruskin’s Centre for Enterprise Development and Research (CEDAR) awarded £10,000 to Mackay in December 2011 as part of its Enterprise Fellowship Scheme, and has also provided her with ongoing mentoring support.

Mackay’s not-for-profit website, which has the support of Co-operative Energy and Good Energy, is designed to link people with an interest in sustainable energy with communities that are developing microgeneration projects.  

Mackay said:

“When I was looking to invest in renewable energy, I found it really difficult to find the community projects.  It was so frustrating.  I eventually found and talked to some co-operatives and ‘community benefit’ societies and I realised then how burdensome they find attracting investors and the administration that comes with it.  So I could see that something had to be done to help.
“Microgenius is designed to simplify the process for both projects and investors. It is a web-based platform that has been specially developed to manage the administration of fundraising and also to make it possible to reach a much wider range of people with the share offer. 
“Sheffield Renewables is a great example of the type of community energy project that Microgenius aims to support.  A proportion of the shares will be sold through our platform simplifying the process for investors.” 

Ben Mumby-Croft, Senior Lecturer at Anglia Ruskin and Mackay’s mentor said:

“We are delighted to see the progress Emily has made since being awarded the CEDAR Enterprise Fellowship in 2011.  She has taken her initial idea to a national launch in less than a year.
“CEDAR specialises in finding and supporting true entrepreneurship, which is about having a positive attitude, being tenacious, and not being afraid to try out new ideas and approaches, which are all traits Emily has aplenty.  We are very excited to see this beta site launching.”

Community energy is thriving. There are some 59 energy co-operatives registered across the UK according to the Community Shares Action Learning Research Project and although the sector is still emerging, some are already generating energy using wind, hydro and solar power and other technologies, and there are many more projects planned.  An estimated £25m has been invested in community shares in renewable energy to date.

Sheffield Renewables is a social enterprise that aims to reintroduce hydroelectric generation to the city and provide a social, environmental and financial return to investors.  The Jordan Dam hydroelectric scheme will use a ‘fish friendly’, Archimedean screw, which turns as water is channelled through it generating electricity.  The site chosen already has a weir and the project will include a fish ladder to improve fish migration up river.

Mark Wells, Business and Funding Director of Sheffield Renewables, said:

“Fast-flowing water was the powerhouse that started Sheffield’s steel industry. Sheffield Renewables is drawing on that heritage and inspiration to create an entrepreneurial community with an interest in sustainable energy and developing hydroelectric generation.
=“Our Jordan Dam hydro project aims to generate 310,000kWh of electricity a year, the amount used by 80 typical family homes, and save the 170 tonnes of carbon-dioxide that would otherwise have been produced.  It is the first in a number of local renewable energy initiatives.
“Profits from the scheme will support local environmental projects, so by purchasing shares, investors will be contributing to creating a greener, more sustainable city. Investors will become members of Sheffield Renewables and gain an equal vote in how it is run.  We plan to offer a modest rate of interest and have a target of 3% plus tax relief.”

The Sheffield Renewables share offer runs until 31 December and Wells sees the benefit of partnering with Microgenius as a way of reaching a much wider community.  He added:

“We have strong grass roots support from the Sheffield community but want to expand our membership.  Microgenius is exciting as it offers a new way for people to engage in community energy generation across the UK.”

Another scheme to recently approach Microgenius for support is Woolhope Woodheat based in Herefordshire, the UK’s first green heat supply co-operative.

Woolhope Woodheat began life as a collaboration between Fownhope and District Carbon Reduction Action Group (CRAG) and Sharenergy Co-operative.  It is aiming to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by installing wood fuel boilers in hard-to-heat local buildings and then to fuel these boilers using locally sourced woodchip, bringing neglected woodlands in the area back into management.

Ben Dodd, Development Manager at Woolhope Woodheat said:

“We are aiming to bring ‘green heat’ to South Hereford and have set up the co-operative to involve the wider community.  Already we have over 100 prospective members and have negotiated a contract with a local supplier of wood chips from a sustainable source.
“Capital is required to purchase the first boiler and we are well on the way to achieve this through the share offer.  By teaming up with Microgenius we hope to reach a wider community and attract more members and support for the project before the share offer closes on 28 September.”

For further information about Microgenius, please visit www.microgenius.org.uk