UK’s largest community-owned solar park to come online next year

The Ray Valley Solar project in Oxford is expected to come online next autumn, after Triodos Bank confirmed lending for what is expected to be the UK’s largest community-owned solar park.

UK’s largest community-owned solar park to come online next year

Low Carbon Hub believes that surplus energy produced from Ray Valley Solar will create more than £10m of community benefit funding

Ray Valley Solar will be located near Arncott in the northeast of Oxford. The project will have a total installed capacity of 19.2MWp once complete and will aim to generate enough electricity to power over 6,000 homes annually.

Triodos bank has confirmed funding for the project, which has received additional financial support from Oxford City Council and grant funding from Project LEO (Local Energy Oxfordshire).

The park is owned by social enterprise firm Low Carbon Hub, which believes that surplus energy produced from Ray Valley Solar will create more than £10m of community benefit funding over the project’s lifetime. The money will be spent on local initiatives that reduce energy demand across Oxfordshire.

Low Carbon Hub’s chief executive Dr Barbara Hammond said: “Ray Valley Solar Park is our first ground mount solar project, but it will be our 48th renewable energy project. We’re really pleased to be working with Triodos Bank to help make this project happen, an organisation with a strong track record and such closely aligned values to us.

 “Along with their finance, we’ve also raised £4.5m in investment into our community share offer, the Community Energy Fund. We were bowled over by the level of support for this share offer, which really demonstrates people’s enthusiasm for the project and support for a better energy system, one based on renewables that benefits communities.”

Triodos Bank has approved the loan facility to allow construction to start this year. The park is expected to begin generating clean energy in autumn 2021.

The project will help with the region’s broader decarbonisation efforts. In 2019, Oxford made a public declaration on the climate emergency, which culminated in the creation of a net-zero emissions target for 2030 and the implementation of the UK’s first Citizens’ Climate Assembly.

Solar boon

Following a plethora of cuts to subsidies and feed-in-tariffs (FITs), combined with the closure of Renewables Obligation (RO) applications in 2017, the outlook for the UK’s solar market looked bleak.

New solar power installations halved in the UK in 2019 for the second year in a row, as the fallout of government subsidy cuts continued to shake the sector.

However, some analysts are arguing that the UK investment environment is beginning to settle as the market adapts to a new subsidy-free era for solar. Subsidy-free solar projects are “coming of age” according to Aurora Energy Research, thanks to the falling costs and flexibility of co-located battery storage technology, according to a new report which claims that more than 5GW of solar capacity could be deployed in the UK without subsidies by 2030.

The nation’s first subsidy-free solar farm is located in Clayhill, Bedfordshire, while the second is co-located with Westcott Venture Business Park in Buckinghamshire. A further 5.4MWp facility – Hall Farm II – came online in Leicestershire in August 2019.

Then, in December 2019, A 40MW solar plant came online on the Bedfordshire/Cambridgeshire border, which made it the largest subsidy-free facility of its kind in the UK at the time.

Ethical focus

In related news, a new survey has found that corporate buyers of renewable energy are demanding that developers place more emphasis on the environmental and social aspects of their businesses.

A recent survey of 77 project developers from LevelTen Energy found that almost 70% had been asked by corporates to improve their environmental and social practices. Additionally, two-thirds had been asked by corporates about hiring and training locally and more than half had been asked to disclose diversity statistics of the company.

According to LevelTen Energy, the corporate demands are stemming from consumer pressures on businesses to improve the positive contributions of their supply chains to society and the planet.

Matt Mace

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie