Increasing numbers of community groups are looking to solar power to better the lives of those in the local community through the installation of solar panels, providing electricity or heat to homes.

There has been a resurgence in the number of community groups in the UK over the last few years. Figures show a near ten per cent increase in the number of UK co-operative enterprises.  The number of community-led solutions running businesses and services stood at 5,450 in 2010 and rose to approaching 6,000 (5,933) in 2011. This equates to combined UK membership of 13.5 million people – a 5.5 per cent increase.

A new initiative has now been launched in Newport, by Generation Community in conjunction with The Co-operative Enterprise Hub. The scheme is a community share project, which aims to raise the £390,000 needed to start the first phase of solar panel installation on some 240 homes of low-income residents.

It has been estimated that the homes that have solar panels installed will see approximately a 25 per cent reduction in their electricity bills.

Michael Fairclough, The Co-operative's head of community and Co-operative investment, said: "There is significant potential for community-owned renewable energy to deliver local economic and social benefits in addition to helping the UK to meet its energy needs and climate change goals.

"Ambitious community-led projects enable people to control, generate and benefit from their own renewable energy and, can contribute to a step-change in people's thinking about energy – a catalyst for a clean energy revolution across the UK."

As fuel bills continue to rise, more and more people are struggling to heat their homes sufficiently and are feeling the strain of these heightened living costs.

James Alexander, chairman of Gen Community Ltd, which is running the solar scheme, said: "We believe we can improve the lives of low-income communities through the installation of renewable energy technologies, projects which alleviate fuel poverty, reduce carbon-dioxide emissions and dependence on fossil fuels and, at the same time, offer a fair return for investors.’’