Northumbrian Water has followed its new green energy supply deal with renewables giant Ørsted by revealing plans for 10 new solar farms at its sites across the region. The company announced yesterday it has teamed up with solar specialist Lightsource BP to work on plans to install and operate 10 ground-mounted solar farms at its water and sewage works. The companies said the projects are expected to deliver up to 10GWh of clean power a year – enough to power more than 3,000 homes. The market for corporate solar installations has contracted sharply in recent years in the wake of steep cuts to government subsidies. But developers are increasingly confident that falling technology costs and a growing appreciation of the environmental and energy security benefits solar can bring are driving a gradual revival across the market. The latest deal comes after Lightsource BP, which rebranded late last year after oil giant BP bought a 43 per cent stake in the firm, announced it had formed a new clean energy investment fund manager in India in partnership with Everstone Group.
Budget cuts and increasing pressure on services have compelled Local Authorities to think of different ways to fill the ever-growing funding gap. Councils have been taking different approaches to this problem, depending on local circumstances. Commercial investment boards set up by local authorities now scrutinise ways to generate long-term revenues whilst maximising the benefits for local residents and businesses. These range from investment in commercial property and regeneration to one local authority even setting up its own bank! The focus on sustainable income generation is now acute with the number of conferences and events devoted to the subject testament to this. Renewable energy offers massive potential for local authority investment and support – and it’s an area not unfamiliar to the public sector, with councils being instrumental in setting up the first municipal power stations (Swindon had one in 1903). Today’s energy sector may look different but still provides the same opportunity to support local residents and businesses and create long-term revenues through investment. Public Power Solutions (PPS) was set up by Swindon Borough Council specifically to address this opportunity. Our first schemes focussed on developing solar on council-owned buildings, moving on to larger-scale solar farms on the edge of Swindon financed by the private sector. We developed a 62MW solar park for the Science Museum on a former airfield in Wroughton which is now owned by a number of local authority investors from around the UK.
Dr Nicolette Allen, of the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU), looked at the way solar panels installed in one of the most disadvantaged communities in the South East, have changed the practices of seven families over the course of a year. She made a video about her findings. People living in fuel poverty can feel powerless to do anything about their situation, often having to prioritise cooking a meal for the family over heating their home. Watching the prepayment energy meter constantly and worrying about running out of power on a daily basis is not only disempowering but can be incredibly damaging to people’s mental health. By receiving the solar panels, these families were able to take control of their energy use and their finances by becoming ‘prosumers’: producing and consuming their own energy. The project showed how much energy consumption is embedded in everyday life and how it is not straightforward to become a prosumer at all. Certain practices, like cooking the children’s meals, could not be adjusted to when the sun was shining. They were part of the family routine that needed to be maintained. Others, like putting on laundry, were more flexible.
Leicestershire County Council is taking forward plans to finance and construct its own 10MW solar farm, which it hopes will generate £720,000 per year once completed while mitigating the council’s emissions by over 100%. Subject to approval, the scheme will be developed for £7.76 million on land owned by the council near the town of Quorn. It will be funded from the Asset Investment Fund as identified in the council’s Medium Term Financial Strategy (MTFS) 2018/19-2021/22. Along with the commercial units also under consideration by the council for rent, the entire scheme is expected to lead to an annual yield of 5.8% once business rates and operational and maintenance costs associated with the management of all four sites (£200,000 pa) are taken out.
Why mayors and ministers should launch state-backed energy firms. If there was ever a British consumer market in need of new thinking, it’s the energy market. Pretty much everyone agrees it’s not working for the people in it, and especially for people on low incomes. Those people can end up paying almost £400 more to heat and light their homes than people who have more money. This poverty premium has many components. Poor customers are more likely to have pre-payment meters: suppliers charge more for them. They’re more likely to receive not electronic but paper bills: suppliers charge more for them, too. And they’re less likely to switch deals and suppliers, using competition to drive down their price. That inertia can cost more than £300 a year in higher bills. At the Social Market Foundation, we’ve been talking to the people who suffer that poverty premium to see what would actually work for them. One message that comes out of that research -supported by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation – is that there is real scope for a third way, an approach that offers a new role for the public sector within a competitive market. This approach is for the public sector to become a player in that competitive market, with publicly-owned, non-profit energy suppliers. Britain already has one in the form of Robin Hood energy, set up by Nottingham City Council in 2015. The Scottish government is also considering creating its own supplier. London is a striking example: almost one in five households in the capital has a pre-payment meter, exposing them to higher prices. Sadiq Khan has already shown interest in this area: his City Hall is now an energy supplier to Transport for London. Our research suggests Mr Khan and his fellow mayors should be thinking hard about going into the energy business properly to make the market work better for their low-income voters. And ministers who want to put power in the hands of local communities and get a better deal for consumers should be looking at how to help.
Good news; if they’re clever, local authorities can make most applications of solar work today, without central government support. That’s a message we want to get out wide and far as we publish ‘Leading Lights’, and look to work with local and regional leaders to reboot the UK solar revolution. And our leading light authorities are also using energy storage and even master planning smart neighbourhoods today. Our new Leading Lights Local Authority Network will ensure best practice is shared, and their efforts will be strongly supported by our members. A decentralised energy future is irresistible; it is not just the economics of technology change stipulating a smarter, more localised system with blossoming consumer controls and choice, many local people want a solid stake in clean energy and in climate action too. Their locally elected leaders increasingly reflect this. We’ve been delighted by the UK100 initiative which brings together councils with ambitions to deliver 100% clean energy by 2050. We’ve been heartened by the Mayor of London’s Solar Action Plan and encouraged by the new Metro Mayors’ ambitions for clean air and clean energy. And, with a wave of new local councillors after the local elections next month, we hope to see solar ambitions refreshed across councils of all political persuasions. Action can’t wait; analysis by C40 Cities shows to deliver on the Paris Agreement goals, every city across the UK should be powered by at least 90% renewable energy, making investment a necessity today. The good news is the special circumstances of local authorities – namely access to land and roof space, low or zero cost borrowing, secure off-takers for power and long project horizons – mean they can make projects work economically today, where the commercial industry may struggle. The STA will be holding a series of regional workshops with MPs and local leaders to help spread best practice. All of our members will be able use our Leading Lights presentation to take to their own council to make the case for effective policies. It’s been a very tough few years in solar. But our spring will come sooner if we work closely with the passionate leaders in local and regional government who understand how well solar and storage technologies can help them to meet their objectives.
Council solar farms & most council rooftop schemes no longer need to depend on national support; Councils urged to boost renewables on new homes & offices; Top 10 solar investor authorities combined investment tops £80 million; Councils developing ‘subsidy-free’ solar farms today A new report published by the STA today shows how local councils are leading the way on solar by building modern solar homes, developing ‘subsidy-free’ solar farms, master planning ‘smart’ neighbourhoods and using solar to save money and provide stable sources of revenue to fund services. Highlights from the collection of 26 pioneering and proven case studies, which detail financing.
Solar generation from the rooftop array of a housing block in London has been traded to an adjacent tower in the UK’s first energy trade using blockchain technology. The trade took place at Hackney’s Banister House Estate, where a trial has been underway with Repowering London since November 2017 aiming to enable residents to use local renewable energy sources to lower their energy bills on the road to creating “a fully empowered, almost self-sustaining community”.
Bentley Motors has started work on what will be the UK’s biggest solar carport at its factory headquarters in Crewe, as part of the luxury carmaker’s plan to boost its green power production. Over the next six months Bentley will install 10,000 solar panels over its car park at the Crewe site, creating a solar farm with a capacity of 2.7MW. The company already has more than 20,000 panels installed on the factory’s rooftop.
UK-based firm AqvaFloat has announced the completion of its new Cumbria factory, where it plans to begin production of “game-changing” floating systems for solar farms across the UK and Europe. The AqvaFloat system is based on a floating docking system that has been in production for 40 years, but which has been adapted to enable solar farms to be situated on water. Now fully commissioned, the new factory in Cumbria is expected to initially produce around 12MW of solar systems a year with a view to ramping up capacity in the future. The company also has plans to maximise the use of recycled plastic to bring costs down further, it said.