UK’s largest (and greenest) solar farm connects to grid
The 48MW Southwick Estate Solar Farm in Hampshire is now operating as the UK's largest solar farm following grid connection earlier this week.
The project, which is generating enough renewable electricity to supply the equivalent of 14,500 homes, has overtaken the UK’s previous largest solar farm – the 46MW Landmead solar farm in Oxfordshire – by just 2MW of capacity.
In addition to its size, the solar farm also stands out for its additional green credentials. The owner and operator Primrose Solar has worked closely with developer Solarcentury to set a new environmental standard for construction; ensuring that environmental considerations were incorporated throughout the planning, construction and operational lifetime of the solar farm.
The farm will operate to the ‘highest ecological standards’ during its 25-year lifetime. Primrose is also working with Wychwood Biodiversity – co-authors of the BRE National Solar Centre guidelines on biodiversity in solar farms, – to create a bespoke ‘habitat management plan’ for the site.
The Southwick Estate Solar Farm is based on Grade 4 agricultural land considered unsuitable for growing crops. Instead, wildflowers will be sown using a native seed mix to help reverse declining pollinator species, and hedgerows, trees and ponds surrounding the site will be enhanced as part of the habitat management plan. The land will also be used for sheep grazing during the winter.
Sustainability initiatives were incorporated into the construction of the solar farm and included the use of solar-powered and biodiesel generators; recycling over the whole site including food and canteen waste; installation of composting permanent toilet facilities and the installation of CCTV running on hydrogen fuel cells.
Primrose Solar’s chief operating officer, Nicola Waters said: “We’re incredibly excited to have completed such a large and complex project which will make a major contribution to the UK’s renewable energy targets. With most of the work happening over the winter, conditions have been challenging. But it won’t take long for the grass and wild flowers to get established around the panels so nature can take its course.”
Solar is expected eventually to become the top source of energy globally by 2050 as the technology continues to improve. A recent report by international commentator on utility-scale solar, Wiki-Solar, predicted that the UK could soon have the third largest utility-scale (above 4MW) solar market in the world, with an ‘installation spree’ expected in the coming months.
But the UK’s Government’s support for solar is questionable. Ministers announced last year that they would cut off subsidies for large solar farms under the Renewable Obligation (RO) from this month – two years earlier than planned.
And in its recent awarding of renewable energy subsidy contracts through the Contracts for Difference scheme, solar was effectively bottom of the pile, with just five of the 27 contracts offered to solar projects.