UK company plans massive, subsidy-free 350MW solar farm

Cleve Hill Solar Park map
© Cleve Hill Solar

But some conservationists are not so sure about cramming this into the English countryside...

If it's true that a global electricity system running on 100% renewable energy really is possible, then almost every country in the world is going to have to significantly scale its renewable energy efforts.

So far, in the UK, that has primarily meant large-scale offshore wind, rooftop solar and what you might call medium-scale solar farms.

That may be about to change. UK-based Hive Energy and German solar company Wirsol Energy have just revealed a proposal for Cleve Hill Solar Farm—a gigantic 350MW, 890 acre solar farm on the Kent coast. Besides its sheer size, which is hard to imagine on the crowded landscape of mainland Britain, there are a few other things worthy of note about this proposed project:

1) Developers say the panels will be oriented East-West, and at a lower angle, than is typical for UK solar. The goal is not to maximize output, but rather to provide a steadier, more practical supply of power across an entire day.
2) The farm will also feature battery storage solutions for grid balancing services.
3) The developers say that it could be build entirely subsidy free—something that appears to be increasingly viable even in the cloudy UK.

That said, a project this size is inevitably going to cause concern. The BBC reports that conservation group CPRE Kent describes the proposed farm as "the worst possible location," being both right next to a waterfowl nature reserve, and located right on the picturesque Kent coast. For their part, Cleve Hill Solar says the project is located on low-grade farmland, will power 110,000 homes, bring in £27.25 million in investments to the local area, and will also incorporate land set aside for nature habitat and biodiversity mitigation.

Given the project's scale, it is the first proposed solar project to qualify as a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project, meaning final approval will be given not by local planners, but by the government's Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. If it gets the go-ahead, the farm will be producing power by somewhere around 2020.

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