Clayhill solar farm

UK’s first subsidy-free solar farm opens in Bedfordshire

Image credit: Anesco

The opening of the 10-megawatt solar farm, developed by Anesco, is a major step forward for an industry often disparaged for having been unable to stand without the support of generous government subsidies.

The sun just about managed to emerge from behind the clouds as the ribbon was cut this morning by Claire Perry, the minister for climate change and industry. The solar facility is based on Clayhill Farm near Flitwick in Bedfordshire.

“For the solar industry, Clayhill is a landmark development and paves the way for a sustainable future, where subsidies are no longer needed or relied upon,” said Steve Shine, executive chairman of Anesco.

“Importantly, it proves that the government’s decision to withdraw subsidies doesn’t have to signal the end of solar as a commercially viable technology.”

Previously, every solar venture in the country has required public schemes to subsidise the expense of the building. For instance, the ‘contracts for difference’ scheme guarantees a minimum price per unit of electricity generated, while the ‘renewables obligation’ (which has now closed) supported major builds. Homeowners who install solar panels on their roofs are entitled to a ‘feed-in tariff’ - small payments from their energy supplier.

Clayhill solar farm was constructed in just 12 weeks near the site of an existing, subsidised solar farm.

Peter Atherton, a consultant for Cornwall Energy, told the Financial Times that: “[Placing this new project next to existing schemes] makes a big difference because obviously a lot of the common infrastructure you need is already in place.”

The new solar farm will generate enough power for 2,500 homes and will provide its services to the National Grid. The plant uses cutting-edge Huawei-built 1500V inverters to maximise power conversion; this is the first time these inverters have been deployed in Europe.

Perhaps most significantly, it has access to a 6MWh battery-storage facility, which absorbs excess electricity generated during the sunniest times of the day and releases this electricity back into the grid during times of peak demand.

The use of such battery technology, which makes the most of the total electricity generated, is crucial to rendering weather-dependent renewable energy a more “economically feasible” prospect, Anesco said.

Anesco, which specialises in the development of battery storage sites, was backed in its project by Alcentra. Anesco has other subsidy-free renewable energy sites in its pipeline, although industry groups have warned that the success of Anesco should not be taken as evidence that the solar energy industry is no longer in need of support. A representative of the Solar Trade Association commented that projects such as that at Clayhill farm were likely to be exceptions.

Renewable sources of energy are increasingly becoming a key part of the UK energy mix. According to the National Grid, the summer of 2017 was the UK’s ‘greenest’, with more than half (52 per cent) of electricity generated from low-carbon sources (including nuclear, as well as renewable sources) for the first time in history.

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