Warrington Council moves towards energy self-sufficiency with major solar and storage deal
Two industrial-scale solar farms and a 27MW battery storage facility are set to be installed in York and Hull before the end of next year, after funding for the project closed today (28 February).
Jointly funded by Investec Bank and Leapfrog Finance – and being developed without the need for subsidies – the two solar farms will have a combined capacity of 62MW and will be used to make Warrington Borough Council the first UK-based local authority to generate all of its own energy.
The first of the solar farms, a 34.7MWp hybrid solar farm in York, will feature a 27MW battery and is due to come online in October, with construction set to begin immediately. A second 25.7MWp solar farm will then be installed in Hull, with plans for a battery array at the site yet to be finalised.
Warrington Borough Council believes that the Hull solar farm will be able to meet 100% of its energy demands, reducing its annual energy bills by up to £2m in the process. Electricity from the York facility, meanwhile, will initially be sold on the open market – but may be offered to other local authorities in the future.
The Council estimates that the two solar farms – once fully operational – will generate enough clean power to supply more than 18,000 homes and mitigate the emission of 25,000 tonnes of carbon every year.
“Councils have a major role to play in helping to meet carbon emission reduction targets, and these two sites are a working model that we hope other local authorities will follow,” Warrington Borough Council Leader Councillor 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 £150m over 30 years, which can be invested back into the most important frontline services.”
Both facilities will be fitted with bifacial photovoltaic (PV) panels, which can capture light energy on both sides and use sensor technology to track and follow the sun. Energy firm Gridserve, which will build and operate the farms, claims that these technologies will increase generation by 20%.
Once completed, both solar farms will also play host to onsite electric vehicle (EV) charging networks called Electric Forecourts. Each forecourt will include 24 rapid charging points, with users set to be offered a ‘pay-per-charge’ rate.
“Warrington Borough Council is leading the way in showing councils how solar and battery storage can help generate sustainable income to deliver vital public services, meet climate targets with clean energy and support a low-carbon economy," Gridserve's chief executive Toddington Harper added.
"These will be the most advanced solar farms in the UK – and quite possibly the world – ushering in a new era of subsidy-free, truly sustainable energy."
The new arrays are being installed without Government funding, following a plethora of cuts to subsidies and feed-in-tariffs (FITs), combined with the closure of Renewables Obligation (RO) applications in 2017.
While Government cuts to solar subsidies initially diminished the attractiveness of the UK’s renewable energy markets, recent reports have concluded that the UK investment environment is beginning to settle as the market adapts to a new subsidy-free era for solar.
The nation ranked seventh in the latest bi-annual Renewable Energy Country Attractiveness Index (RECAI) from consultancy EY, up from 10th in the last index, to a position it last held in 2014. Experts believe this trend is likely to continue, with several forecasts indicating that Britain will install 18GW of new solar capacity by 2030 and attract £20bn of investment.
This potential has been partly attributed to the success of the country’s first subsidy-free solar farm, which was opened last September in Bedfordshire. Operated by Anesco, the 10MW farm in Clayhill is co-located with a 6MW battery storage facility and was developed after the RO subsidy scheme closed to new applicants.
Similarly, Westcott Venture Business Park in Aylesbury is currently building a 15MWp onsite solar array, which is due to come online this spring. The move will enable the 76 businesses within the 650-acre industrial park to run on 100% renewable power with the array generating surplus energy that will be sold back to the grid.
Correction: This article previously stated that the projects were located in the West Midlands. This was corrected and updated to York and Hull.