Public opinion and hungry investors push more farmers to convert land as number of solar farms swells to 2,500

Public opinion and hungry investors push more farmers to convert land as number of solar farms swells to 2,500

The number of solar farms in the UK increased 12 per cent last year, from 2,250 in 2019/20 to 2,510 last year, according to new data shared today.

This growth is coming from farmers who are increasingly using their land to erect solar farms. Converting this land to be used as solar farms offers a stable, long-return for landowners, in the face of volatile crop prices and the end of agricultural subsidies, said law firm EMW, which compiled the numbers.

From 2021, the £1.6bn subsidies that farmers receive for owning or renting land will begin to be phased out, ending entirely by 2028.

The UK Government has taken over most of the farming subsidies previously covered by the EU’s Common Agriculture Policy. It is estimated English farmers will lose at least 50 per cent of their EU subsidies by 2024.

The government is aiming to hit climate change goals outlined in the Paris Agreement and encourage more renewable energy projects.

National planning policy supports the development of solar farms and even on green belt land, the wider environmental benefits associated with increased production of energy can qualify as very special circumstances.  This has helped to contribute to the rise in new solar projects being opened, explained Marco Mauro, Legal Director at EMW.

Investment

A contributing factor to the growth of solar farms is the increasing amount of investment available for projects.

Over 20 green energy funds now are listed on the London Stock Exchange, worth a total of more than $10bn. Over the last five years, the market capitalisation of these funds has increased over 200 per cent.

“Solar projects are benefiting enormously from greater investment, relaxed planning rules and improving public opinion,” Mauro said.

“There are also a great deal more potential sites for solar projects, with agricultural landowners becoming much more open to using land for solar generation instead of crops. That is only likely to increase in the coming years,” he added.

Public opinion

Public opinion has shifted in favour of more renewable energy projects in recent years, as climate change moves up the news agenda.

This is also contributing to less opposition to renewable projects than in previous years, Mauro said. Solar farms also tend to be more acceptable to the public than wind farms due to being less noticeable and noisy.

If the application has been properly prepared and the proposal is intended to be located in an area that is not overly sensitive there is usually a good chance of that project securing approval, he added.

Army’s first solar farm hailed as ‘key milestone in go-green agenda’

Army’s first solar farm hailed as ‘key milestone in go-green agenda’

The site will reduce carbon emissions, save costs, and generate energy to power facilities at Normandy Barracks, in Leconfield, East Yorkshire.

The British Army has opened its first solar farm as part of a project that will help reduce greenhouse emissions and see savings of around £152 million over 10 years.

The farm, at the Defence School of Transport, at Normandy Barracks in Leconfield, East Yorkshire, is made up of more than 4,000 solar panels set in an area the size of around eight football pitches.

It is the first of four pilot sites planned across England as part of the Army’s £200 million Project Prometheus investment.

The project – which will see 80 solar farms across the Army estate within 10 years – is designed to support the UK Government reaching its target of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Construction is under way at the next three pilot sites – at the Duke of Gloucester Barracks, Gloucestershire; Rock Barracks, Suffolk; and Baker Barracks on Thorney Island, Sussex – and it is estimated the four sites will see £1 million in efficiency savings and 2,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent each year, with saving costs due to be reinvested into essential Army infrastructure.

At the four-hectare Leconfield site, where each individual solar panel will generate 550 watts, the farm is projected to save 700 tonnes of carbon emissions and cut electricity bills by one third annually.

The majority of the energy generated will be used on site, including potentially powering accommodation, offices, hangars, classrooms and the gym, with any surplus exported to the grid.

Major General David Southall, director of basing and infrastructure, said: “Our first operational solar farm at Leconfield marks a key milestone in the Army’s go-green agenda. It showcases our firm commitment to tackle the effects of climate change, harnessing renewable energy to power our estate.

“Leconfield is the first of four pilot sites to open this year. Each builds on our knowledge and expertise, enabling us to upscale and deliver a total of 80 solar farms across the Army estate within the decade.

“We continue to think big, start small, scale fast.”

The solar farm was officially opened on Wednesday by MP Jeremy Quin, the minister for defence procurement.

Mr Quin said: “This multimillion-pound investment reaffirms our commitment to net-zero 2050 and developing a more sustainable service.

“Significant investment will result in a more efficient and environmentally friendly estate.”

Greg McKenna, managing director of Centrica Business Solutions, which built the farm, added: “It will require a monumental effort to reach net-zero but, by showing leadership on sustainability and carbon reduction, the Army has put in place a template which the rest of the public sector and industry can replicate.”

Solar Skills Training Launched in London

Solar Skills Training Launched in London

Solar Energy UK and the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan have launched a project to provide training and support for people who want to pursue a career in the solar industry.

The Solar Skills London project intends to develop a solar PV learner curriculum, create a series of introductory workshops for potential new solar industry trainees.

It will also create of a placement programme for trainees with London solar businesses and publish an online solar training and careers hub for the Capital.

There will also be a grants scheme to help London’s solar businesses provide training for their employees

The project will support London’s contribution to clean energy in the UK.

The Mayor of London is targeting 1GW of solar deployment by the end of the decade, which could provide enough power to run over half a million electric vehicles annually.

New solutions have also been developed to make planning solar energy projects easier, including the London Solar Opportunity Map.

Solar Energy UK chief executive Chris Hewett said: “We are delighted to launch this project with the Mayor of London.

“Solar power is clean, affordable and straightforward to deploy.

“This project will help equip the next generation of skilled solar technicians and boost London’s hopes of delivering a green recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.”

Deputy Mayor for Environment and Energy Shirley Rodrigues said: “We are delighted to be working in partnership with Solar Energy UK to invest in London’s solar workforce.

“This programme will provide training and apprenticeships in solar technologies and help create more green jobs in the renewable energy sector.

“The Mayor has ambitious plans for solar energy in London which will support his target of reaching net zero carbon by 2030 and support green jobs for Londoners, a key part of his Green New Deal mission for London’s recovery.”

Solar Energy UK is calling on the government to enable the deployment of 40GW of solar energy in the UK by 2030, triple today’s levels.

This is in line with independent analysis by the Climate Change Committee of the UK’s solar needs if it is to have a carbon net zero economy by 2050.

London is already host to innovative solar projects, which include Hackney Light and Power, a company launched by Hackney Council to provide renewable energy services, and Solar Together, the pioneering group-buying scheme which has seen wide take-up in the capital.

Contracts for Difference (CfD): Allocation Round 4

Contracts for Difference (CfD): Allocation Round 4

The next Contracts for Difference (CfD) auction will begin in December, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has confirmed.

By confirming that the round won’t take place until December, BEIS hopes to “provide further clarity to prospective participants” it said.

The announcement was made alongside the release of the government’s response to the changes to Supply Chain Plans and the CfD contract, which it launched in November 2020. This confirmed the decision to bring forward the assessment of a developer’s delivery of its supply chain commitments to shortly after a project’s Milestone Delivery Date.

Additionally, it confirmed that new powers in legislation will be given to the Secretary of State to assess a Supply Chain Implementation Statement, and either pass or refuse it. It also confirmed the introduction of a new Operational Condition Precedent, which has the potential for a CfD contract to be terminated if the Statement isn’t provided by a Low Carbon Contracts Company.

These latest supply chain proposals set out “challenging new demands for project developers” said RenewableUK’s deputy chief executive Melanie Onn, adding that it’s “vital” that guidance is clear on how the contribution towards job creation, skills development and fostering innovation in the supply chain is demonstrated.

“Project developers are already working with manufacturers to help them understand our projects’ needs and timelines, which will support investment in new facilities and the development of new skills in our workforce.

“Underpinning all this, we need large volumes of new capacity in the next CfD auction for new contracts to generate clean power to keep us on track for our 2030 target, quadrupling what we’ve already installed”.

It’s hoped the CfD round will double renewable energy capacity compared with the last round, expanding technologies including offshore wind, onshore wind, solar, tidal and floating offshore wind. The response from BEIS additionally confirmed that phasing will not be extended to floating offshore wind.

Round four will be particularly significant as established ‘Pot One’ technologies including solar PV and onshore wind will be able to bid in, with BEIS targeting support for 12 GW of new renewable capacity. In November, the government confirmed that the negative pricing rule for projects would be extended, however it is consulting further on potential amendments for energy storage and system flexibility.

Government consultation launched solar could reach 120 GW capacity

Government consultation launched solar could reach 120 GW capacity

On the same day that the Energy White Paper was unveiled, the Government also launched a new consultation on how financing and deployment of renewable technologies can accelerate action towards net-zero, with up to 120 GW of solar capacity mooted as a means to quadruple green energy nationally.

Under some scenarios being explored by the Government, solar PV capacity could reach between 80-120 GW of capacity

The Government has launched a consultation to gain views on how renewables deployment can be accelerated in the UK. The call for evidence, which runs until 22 February, notes that renewables generation could see total capacity quadruple by 2050.

A range of scenarios will be modelled and explored, and responses will be used to tweak the current Contracts for Difference (CfD) mechanism for future allocation rounds. The next CfD auction is aiming to double the amount of renewable energy procured, with 12G W of wind and solar energy being targeted.

The Government has confirmed that the fourth round of the CfD scheme will open in late 2021 and will aim to double the 5.8 GW of renewable capacity procured in the previous round. Up to 12 GW of renewables are being targeted to assist with the nation’s net-zero emissions target for 2050.

The number of technologies supported by the scheme will also be expanded in the latest round, with offshore wind, onshore wind, solar, tidal and floating offshore wind projects all eligible to bid. It marks the first time that floating offshore has been eligible for the scheme and the first time since 2015 that onshore wind and solar have been included.

As part of the new call for evidence, the Government is considering the growth of the solar PV market. While hydrogen and wind energy have been key pillars of the Ten Point Plan and the National Infrastructure Strategy (NIS), solar has been less of a focal point to date.

However, under some scenarios being explored by the Government, solar PV capacity could reach between 80-120 GW of capacity. This is in alignment with the Climate Change Committee’s new advice, which states that 75 GW-90 GW of solar capacity will be required to meet net-zero, while the National Infrastructure Commission has claimed that more than 120 GW will be required.

Commenting on the call for evidence, the Solar Trade Association’s (STA) chief executive Chris Hewett said: “Solar’s contribution to a decarbonised electricity system and net-zero economy is clear. We look forward to seeing the Government’s plan to maximise the potential of cheap onshore renewables and clean energy storage.”

“Additionally, we welcome the Government’s recognition in the White Paper that solar, storage, and smart controls will be central to decarbonising homes, heating, and transport, and encourage a commitment to clear targets for the deployment of these technologies.”

It has been another record-breaking year for solar in the UK. Solar use in the UK broke an all-time daily peak generation in April, accounting for almost 30% of UK electricity demand, with the UK also operating for a record-breaking period without coal.

Earlier in the year, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) approved what is set to be the UK’s largest solar farm, located in Kent. Development consent has been given for Wirsol Energy and Hive Energy’s £450m Cleve Hall solar farm, located outside of Faversham close to the village of Graveney in Kent. BEIS has also confirmed that a 50 MW electrical storage and connection infrastructure located on the site has also been approved.

However, 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.

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UK doubles down on renewables with 12 GW Contracts For Difference Round Four (CfD4)

UK doubles down on renewables with 12 GW Contracts For Difference Round Four (CfD4)

UK Energy Ministry BEIS will allocate supports for up to 12 GW of new renewables projects at its Contracts for Difference Round Four (CfD4) auction which will open late next year.

The round will feature three pots for different technologies, which will all compete for 15-year government subsidies. The 12 GW capacity is over twice as large as 2019’s 5.8GW CfD3.

  • Offshore wind will have its own standalone ‘Pot 3’, in line with plans mooted during consultations on the round earlier this year.
  • ‘Pot 1’ will comprise established technologies including onshore wind and solar – marking the first time since 2015 these two technologies can bid for supports.

Scottish Renewables policy director Morag Wilson said the association welcomed the CfD scheme and its inclusion of onshore wind and the dedicated pot for offshore wind and support for innovative technologies such as floating wind.

Wilson added: “However, differences between Scotland and the rest of the UK need to be accounted for in all areas to ensure there is a level playing field for Scottish projects, particularly the disproportionate impact transmission charging costs pose for Scottish projects.

“Not addressing these disadvantages will hamper progress towards a geographically diverse energy system and reaching the level of deployment needed to achieve net zero.”

Solar Trade Association chief executive Chris Hewett said: “Today’s announcement opens the door to significant numbers of subsidy-free solar projects being developed over the next few years.

“Many responses, including our own, highlighted the merit of having more frequent auctions, and this is something that the Government must implement if it is to maximise the economic and climate potential of renewables.

“Large solar projects can be deployed rapidly, offering a swift, job intensive contribution to a green economic recovery.”

  • Next year’s auction will also be the first time floating offshore wind can compete.
  • Floating projects will be placed in a ‘Pot 2’ for less established technologies alongside Advanced Conversion Technologies and tidal stream.

Former coal stations converted to biomass generation will be excluded from the round.

“The UK is a world leader in clean energy, with over a third of our electricity now coming from renewables,” said UK Energy Minister Kwasi Kwarteng.

“That huge achievement is thanks to the government’s Contracts for Difference scheme.”

Kwarteng said CfD4 will build on the ‘Ten Point Plan’ for a low-carbon future that was outlined by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson last week.

“The new plans…put us firmly on the path towards building a new, green industrial revolution,” he said.

The Government will meanwhile launch a fresh consultation on new proposals for the supply chain plan mechanism in a bid to boost local content levels.

The proposals are designed to increase the clarity, ambition and measurability of commitments made by renewable project developers when they bid for contracts in the CfD scheme, and to introduce new measures if they subsequently fail to deliver on those commitments.

“Next year’s renewable power auctions can unlock over £20bn of new investment in the economy and secure an unprecedented amount of low cost, clean electricity for consumers using the full range of renewable technologies we have available,” said RenewableUK chief executive Hugh McNeal.

McNeal welcomed the round’s inclusion of onshore wind.

“As one of our lowest cost, large scale power options, onshore wind has a vital role to play in meeting the challenge of net zero and the re-opening of CfD auctions is an important step to ramp up investment in this key technology,” he said.

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