Floating solar farm to power water treatment works in Lancashire
Water company United Utilities has this week begun building a floating solar farm on the surface of a reservoir in Lancashire, in a move that will enable it to power one of its water treatment plants with 100% renewable power by early 2019.
The floating array is being built at Langthwaite Reservoir by construction firm Forrest. United Utilities aims to use all the solar power generated by the new array in-house at its Lancaster water treatment works, rather than exporting it to the National Grid.
Consisting of 3,520 solar panels, the solar farm will have a 1MW capacity and cover an area the size of a football pitch once it is complete, with construction expected to take around eight weeks.
“Increasing our generation of renewable energy is not only good for the environment – it’s good for our business too,” United Utilities’ head of renewable energy Richard Waggitt said.
“Energy is one of a water company’s largest controllable operational costs, so by generating our own power, we can protect United Utilities from a volatile energy market, which will allow us to predict our cost of treatment and stabilise bills for our customers.”
Floating green ideas
Once complete, the array will be United Utilities’ second floating solar farm after the company’s first installation built at its Godley reservoir near Manchester in 2016.
Such facilities consist of “rafts” of floats with the solar panels mounted on top. The rafts are bolted together and anchored to allow for fluctuations in water level, using mooring and anchoring systems.
In addition to omitting the need for large fields to be developed on – as is the case for traditional solar farms – United Utilities claims that floating solar arrays panels can help reduce the growth of algae in reservoirs by blocking out light.
If water has less algae in it, it will require less energy and fewer chemicals to process – making the water treatment process less resource and carbon-intensive in turn.
To measure the impact of the new solar farm on biodiversity and algae growth, United Utilities has partnered with the University of Lancaster, which will regularly send a team of researchers to monitor water quality around the array.
Away from floating solar, United Utilities has 40 land-based solar systems across the North West region, which collectively have an annual capacity of 45MW. As it shifts towards sourcing 100% renewables to power its operations, the company plans to build 22 new self-supply solar farms within the next two years.
The firm recently revealed it is set to reduce its yearly electricity bills and energy intensity by 10% after installing an energy flexibility platform which incorporates Artificial Intelligence (AI). United Utilities has also announced plans to switch its entire fleet to go green within the next decade.