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