Microgenius: UK’s first community shares platform

Sheffield Renewables Jordan Dam Hydro scheme is first share offer 15 September 2012

A technology that kick started the industrial revolution is being brought into the twenty-first century with the support of Microgenius, the UK’s first community shares platform focusing on renewable energy projects. The first project using Microgenius is the share offer launch by Sheffield Renewables on 15 September 2012 which aims to raise £250k towards its Jordan Dam Hydro power initiative.

Cambridge-based Microgenius is the brainchild of Emily Mackay, with an MA from Oxford and a decade of business management expertise in the technology and media sectors. The new 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.

Emily Mackay, founder of Microgenius comments: “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 will be our first test run.”

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 with many more projects planned.  An estimated £25m has been invested in community shares in renewable energy to date.

The first project to be supported by Microgenius, 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.

Mark Wells, Business and Funding Director at Sheffield Renewables, explains: “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”

Mark sees the benefit of partnering with Microgenius as a way of reaching a much wider community.

“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.“

Emily agrees, “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.  The best way to test the website is through a live offer and we anticipate a strong demand.”

The Jordan Dam Hydroelectric 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.

Sheffield Renewables is an Industrial & Provident Society (a community benefit society) and last year raised over £50,000 towards the project from a share offer that was only open to its supporters.

Anglia Ruskin University’s Centre for Enterprise Development and Research (CEDAR) awarded £10,000 to Emily in December 2011 as part of its Enterprise Fellowship Scheme, and has also provided her with ongoing mentoring support.

Microgenius soft launches in beta mode with a community share offer for Sheffield Renewables to fund their Jordan Dam hydroelectric project.  The Share Offer launch event will take place on 15th September 2012, and the offer will run to the 31st December. More information is available at www.microgenius.org.uk.

Written by Rachel Holdsworth

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