How the UK has become a Major Global Player in the Solar Market

Far from stagnating the solar industry has
become a major player in the solar market despite the end of the feed-in tariff
this year. The solar market has exploded in recent years growing from a tiny 12
megawatts of capacity in 2006 to over 13,000MW this year. What’s more, it is
evident that there is still huge potential to be tapped.

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The
International Energy Agency has said that solar both
photovoltaic and thermal, could exceed fossil fuels, wind and hydro by 2050 to
be the world’s largest energy source. A study conducted in the UK earlier on
this year suggested that if 61% of south-facing roofs were covered with solar
PV, all the energy needed for UK businesses could be taken care of as well as
saving medium sized and larger enterprises at least £30,000 a year on their
energy bills.

Both in the UK and internationally, the cost of solar panels and
other kit relating to generating electricity from renewable energy sources has
dropped significantly and indications are that further reductions in the prices
for solar and battery storage technology are almost inevitable.

Now that subsidies have ended solar farms are
one way to accomplish economies of scale and deliver substantial zero-carbon
electricity to the grid and indeed the tag of ‘the UK’s biggest solar farm’
appears to change location constantly.

Cleeve Hill will be one of the UK’s
largest solar farms covering a massive total of more than 1,000 acres of
farmland near Faversham in Kent. 890 acres will be dedicated to solar panels,
generating up to 350MWh of electricity, powering 91,000 homes and saving over
2.2 million tons of carbon emissions. The site will also host a significant
energy storage facility to store power and release it to the grid at times of
high demand.

Earlier
this year a partnership was struck between Warrington Borough Council and
Gridserve which is being hailed as one of the most technologically-advanced large-scale solar projects to date. The plan
is to use bifacial solar panels, which generate
energy from both sides, as well as trackers to follow the sun for the first
time in the UK. The council are to acquire two new large solar farms that will
supply the power used by the council for decades and gain income from providing
grid services.

Initially electricity generated by the York
solar farm will be sold on the open market although other local authorities
have expressed an interest in buying it’s power. The two projects will generate
millions of pounds in profits every year for 30 years.

Toddington
Harper, chief executive and founder of Gridserve said:

 “The project will help generate sustainable income to deliver vital public services, meet climate targets with clean energy, and support a low carbon economy. We’ve completely rethought the solar model, looking in detail at how to maximise value at every step, and these projects will also pioneer the use of cutting-edge technologies that serve the grid”. 

Leader
of Warrington Borough Council, Cllr Russ Bowden said: 

“The solar farms will secure our energy supply, give us control over our energy prices, contribute to reducing fuel poverty and generate an estimated operating surplus of £150 million over 30 years that can be invested back into the most important frontline services.  Councils have a major role to play in helping to meet carbon emission reduction targets. These two sites are a working model that we hope other local authorities will follow.”

In October this year Smith Brothers
Contracting Ltd were appointed to deliver turnkey electrical engineering
services at the planned Sunnica Energy Farm, a 500 MW solar-plus-storage
project. This solar farm will cover land equivalent to 900 football pitches and
will power 100,000 homes. Subject to approval construction should begin on the
Cambridgeshire and Suffolk border in 2022.

It has also become apparent that solar farms developed by West
Sussex County Council are generating more clean electricity than expected and
are delivering greater than predicted environmental and financial benefits.

This news arrived during ‘Save Energy’ month, part of the county
council’s climate pledge, a scheme created to encourage residents to make small
changes in their daily lives that will collectively help combat climate change.

Tangmere
solar farm, the first of its kind to be developed by the county council under its
energy strategy, was switched on in 2015.

Generation
figures for the 2018/19 financial year show that the 5MW solar farm produced
5,267 MWh of clean electricity and prevented the release of 1,843 tonnes of
carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The county council said that his was enough
additional clean electricity to power a further 108 homes and bring in £52,000
in extra income.

A
spokesman added that the performance of the Westhampnett solar farm, opened on
a former landfill site in October 2018, was also well on track. Westhampnett is
the first publicly owned solar farm to be built with large on-site batteries to
store surplus electricity which is fed into the grid when needed. The batteries
help to balance supply and demand on the electricity grid, a service which
provides additional income to the county council.

Steve
Read, acting executive director for place services (leading public sector provider of integrated environmental
assessment, planning, design and management services)
said:

 “We aim to lead by example by generating clean energy across our estate and improving the energy efficiency of our own buildings. We already generate more renewable electricity than we use in carrying out our core county council functions, excluding schools and street lighting, and expect to increase this generation capacity further as more projects come on stream in the years ahead.”

As
well as the council’s large solar farms it is coming to the end of an extensive
programme to install solar panels at more than 80 schools, which will reduce
overall annual carbon emissions by 1,300 tonnes and, on average, save £2,000 off
each school’s annual energy bill.

Further
to this the county council plans to develop other large energy projects to
support renewable energy in the county which includes a large battery storage
facility on a former waste site at Halewick lane in Sompting.

If the UK is to meet the EU renewable energy
targets by 2020 it will need to increase its dependence on solar power which
will eventually lead to greater investment and local green jobs. Most
importantly it will reduce the UK’s dependence on overseas fossil fuel imports.
As this valuable sector grows solar energy will help businesses to manage their
electricity costs while reducing their carbon emissions and providing them with
a choice about where power can be obtained.

Find out more about solar here

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