UK’s Biggest Solar Farm Now Connected To Grid

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Originally published on Sustainnovate.

The biggest solar farm in the UK, a 46 MW solar farm called Landmead, is now connected to the UK’s National Grid in East Hanney. The project can power 14,000 average British homes. The site was previously used for grazing sheep… and it will continue to be used for that, with the addition of some wildflowers. That’s one of the wonderful things about solar farms — they can be combined with agriculture or grazing without being a threat.

Another wonderful thing about solar farms is how quickly they can be built. We recently announced the beginning of construction on this solar farm. In fact, when I saw the story, I thought, “I already covered this… didn’t I?” I actually thought I had written about it last week, but turns out it was almost a full month. Surely construction began a bit before I wrote my story, but not too long before that.

The Landmead solar farm uses solar panels from First Solar, a 2015 Zayed Future Energy Prize finalist. It was jointly developed by First Solar and Belectric, and it is co-owned by the two.

Coming back to the way solar power subtly slides into the landscape, Toddington Harper, chief executive of Belectric, noted: “The wonderful thing about solar energy is, from a picture, it looks like a big change, but most people don’t travel around in helicopters. If you are at ground level you can’t even see the solar farm behind the hedge, because it’s 2.2m high. People driving by wouldn’t even know it’s there.”

As I noted in November: the solar power plant utilizes over 483,000 thin-film solar modules from First Solar, and could power about 25% of nearby Oxford’s ~55,400 homes.

“The project is the fourth to be executed in the United Kingdom (UK) under a First Solar and BELECTRIC joint venture, announced in 2013. With its recently built solar farms in Wiltshire and East Anglia, the JV is expecting to reach a total capacity of 80 MWDC in the UK. Together, the farms generate almost 80 million kWh of clean energy per year, while displacing an estimated 35,000 tons of greenhouse gases each year.”
Image Credit: Belectric

Reprinted with permission.

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Zachary Shahan

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6 thoughts on “UK’s Biggest Solar Farm Now Connected To Grid

  • Although some agriculture remains possible, we must be honest here: production per hectare will suffer.

    The solar panels partially shade the underlying vegetation, thus meaning less energy is available to the vegetation and growth rates decline. The species in the meadow most sensitive to a reduction in light are clovers, which are responsible for a significant chunk of the nitrogen fixation in the ecosystem of a meadow. So alongside lower light availability, the nutrient availability also declines.

    All this translates into a reduction in both quantity and quality of biomass. Thus, by definition, the amount of livestock units per hectare has to decrease too.

    The decline won’t be a disaster by any means; a meadow with sheep on them will produce very little food to begin with, so any loss will have a very small impact on total food production. Still, PV should be focused on brownfield sites, rooftops or land with limited vegetation first.

    Modes of energy production with a lower land use such as wind or biogas are a better fit for agricultural land.

    • This is likely site specific. It may hold in the UK.

      The grass grows lusher and stays greener longer into the dry season underneath my solar panels.

      • True, in areas where water is more limiting than sunlight or nutrients solar panels might have benefits. However, that’s absolutely not the case anywhere in the UK (or Western Europe for that matter).

        A longer growing season also doesn’t have to imply higher overall biomass production: if production in the wet season is hampered by shading, that likely outweighs a limited increase in growing season length. If water isn’t the limiting input during the wet season, the overall effect will likely still be negative.

        Just to be clear: I’m not opposed to solar farms being built on low grade land. However, we have to ask ourselves if it is worth sacrificing even a limited acreage of productive land in an era when other pressures like urbanisation, rising salinity due to improper irrigation practices, desertification and erosion are destroying or degrading agricultural land at an alarming rate.

        Especially since we don’t *have* to give up agricultural land. Rooftop PV can cover a large chunk of humanity’s energy needs and there is plenty of land not suitable to agriculture (deserts, degraded land and such like).

        It might mean an end to very large solar farms in countries like the UK, but the economies of scale in PV are limited and CSP isn’t suitable to the local climate. And of course, the UK can just build more wind. That has the lowest land use out of any energy source.

        • The UK utility solar industry has a brilliant PR strategy with the sheep and bees. So far it has, very surprisingly, avoided the NIMBY backlash that crimps English onshore wind.

          For entertaining polemic against sheep, read George Monbiot (link).

          • It sure has. Solar uses more land, is more costly to the taxpayer and is concentrated in wealthy areas (unlike wind, which provides jobs in the poorer north of the UK) and yet somehow, it has a better public image.

            Interesting read. George’s not (entirely) wrong about hill farming, but Oxfordshire is a far cry from the Pennines of this world;)

            Apart from that, it’s an open question if his fundamental premise is correct. He implicitly draws on Borlaugh’s hypothesis, the idea that the environment would be better off if we left more land to nature even if that means having to increase the intensity of farming on the best land to compensate.

            I’m inclined to agree with that idea, but many (especially those advocating organic agriculture) aren’t. So far, there’s no conclusive evidence either way.

    • I was thinking that the sheep would also get less sunlight… you brought up excellent points!

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