UK's Newest, Largest Solar Parks Could Be Some Of Its Last

large-scale solar business park photo

Image credit: Solarcentury

When I wrote about Toyota's installation of a 4.1MW solar electric array at its UK plant, commenter Jörg Löhken asked why they weren't using available roof space to make it happen. Similar concerns might be expressed about the 748kWp array just launched at Howbery Business Park—said to be the UK's first solar business park, and one of the largest solar arrays in the country. But the debate over how best to construct such medium- to large-scale plants may go silent for some time as a Government review of solar subsidies looks set to put all such projects on hold. From Ecotricity's planned 1MW solar power plan to the Glastonbury Festival owner's solar-powered cow shed to a community-owned power plant on a brewery roof, the country has seen a sudden surge in medium- to large-scale solar projects on the back of generous feed-in tariffs for renewable energy.

But as we reported on the planned review of solar feed-in tariffs, the Government was apparently taken by surprise by how popular the new tariffs were with commercial operations looking to built utility-scale plants. So just as Solarcentury celebrates the launch of this 748KWp solar array at Howberry Business Park, which should generate 20% of the power needs of the development, they are also lamenting that we may not see many more projects for some time to come.

Derry Newmanm, CEO of Solarcentury, told Industrial Fuels and Power that most larger UK solar projects are on indefinite hold right now:

Solarcentury, which has supplied the Howbery panels, is bringing further projects online next month, but it is expected these could be the country's last big solar parks for some time after the government announced in February a feed-in tariff review, affecting anyone who generates more than 50kW of power, and cut the rates payable for large ground-mounted solar installations by more than 70%. "This means that virtually all investors have withdrawn from financing such developments," said Newman. "There were probably many hundreds lined up for development across the country. They're pretty much all cancelled now because of the fast track review. This type of installation will be a relative rarity for a few years."

I should note that some people have argued against solar feed-in tariffs from the start, arguing that solar is simply too expensive in rainy Britain, and money would be better spent on wind energy and/or conservation measures.

But with large-scale solar taking off in Israel, 100MW solar farms planned in France, and a 2-mile-long solar train tunnel launching in Belgium, there seems to be international momentum building for more ambitious, centralized solar projects right now. Unless the Government finds alternative ways of supporting the larger solar developers, it looks likely that they'll sit on the sidelines of this particular race for the next few years at least. Let's hope they at least put put the money they save into some serious efforts to insulate leaky homes instead.

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