UK's largest solar farm expected to be approved
Development consent for what would be the UK's largest solar farm is expected to be confirmed by the Government this week, which could also see the world's largest energy storage system co-located at the site in the Kent countryside.
Wirsol Energy and Hive Energy are hoping to receive development consent from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) on Thursday (28 May) for the £450m Cleve Hall solar farm, located outside of Faversham close to the village of Graveney in Kent.
If approved, development on the subsidy-free project would begin next year, with electricity generation expected to start by 2023. The 350MW farm would feature almost 900,000 solar panels across 900 acres of farmland.
The developers claim that the farm would generate enough renewable electricity to power 91,000 homes, would reduce UK carbon emissions by 68,000 tonnes annually and generate £1m annually for the Kent and Swale councils.
Discussions are also in place to include one of the world’s biggest energy storage installations into the project. While the details of the storage system haven’t been specified, media outlets are reporting that it could three times bigger than the lithium-ion system utilised by Tesla in Australia.
However, green groups have raised concerns that the near-900-acre development could harm the natural environment in the area, in part because of the energy storage system.
Friends of the Earth supports it while Greenpeace has joined the Campaign to Protect Rural England and the local Green Party to oppose the “industrialising of the countryside”. Additionally, The Telegraph has reported that campaigner and residents are concerned that the mooted energy storage system “cause an explosion on the scale of a small nuclear bomb”.
Solar use in the UK broke an all-time peak generation record last month. At 12:30 on Monday 20 April, solar generation reached a peak of 9.68GW, according to the Sheffield Solar live PV generation tracker. The previous record was set at 9.55GW recorded on 13 May 2019. At the time of the peak, solar was meeting almost 30% of UK electricity demand.
The Solar Trade Association is expecting the Covid-19 outbreak to dampen forecasted growth in unsubsidised large scale solar and commercial rooftops in 2020.
Once the pandemic is overcome, however, the market for renewables in the UK is likely to re-gather momentum, as shorter-term policy measures are developed and implemented to bolster the long-term net-zero target. Meeting the UK’s target, the CCC has repeatedly concluded, will require renewable energy generation capacity to quadruple within 30 years.
BEIS statistics show that 43% fewer small-scale PV installations were made across the UK in February 2020 than in February 2019 – a trend the department attributes almost entirely to the Feed-in Tariff (FiT closure). This is despite the introduction of the Smart Export Guarantee (SEG), designed by BEIS to ensure that businesses and residents creating and exporting solar electricity to the grid will be guaranteed payments. Unlike with FiTs, the SEG payment comes from energy suppliers rather than central Government.
Fortunately, it is anticipated that the UK’s solar capacity could reach 27GW by 2030, following the Government’s decision to make the technology, along with onshore wind projects, eligible to compete for contract auctions.