The UK’s (new) biggest solar farm is just around the corner

The UK could get its largest solar farm in 2020, and it could be built without any government support.

Spread across almost 900 acres of the Kent countryside and with a generation capacity of 350 MW, the Cleve Hill installation would generate enough electricity to power as many as 110,000 homes.

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The scale of the project means that it qualifies as a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project, and will be reviewed by Greg Clark, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy. Significantly, the project will also be the UK’s largest, subsidy-free solar farm.

The Cleve Hill installation isn’t the first subsidy-free solar farm in the UK – that title goes to the 10 MW Clayhill Farm in Bedfordshire, opened in September 2017 – but the scale of the project means it is the country’s largest subsidy-free solar farm.

It is estimated that the installation could save up to 150,500 tonnes of CO2, which is equivalent to removing 29,400 cars from the road, with additional space on the site earmarked for the potential addition of battery storage.

The proposed project will be built on the north Kent coast, located between Faversham and Whitstable, and it would take the title of the UK’s largest solar farm from a government-owned 69 MW installation in Wiltshire.

The company behind the proposal has been responsible for the installation of 300 MW of solar capacity across the UK, and, if the proposal goes ahead, will more than double their total installed capacity.

 

Location, location, location

However, there has been some opposition to the plans, particularly from local environmental groups who are concerned about the impact that the installation could have on the local ecosystem. However, the site has been chosen for a good reason.

Southern England receives moderate levels of solar irradiance (the power received from the sun in the form of electromagnetic radiation), comparable to Northern European countries like Brussels and the Netherlands. As such the Kent site is the perfect location for a solar farm of this size.

There are several factors which influence the amount of irradiance which hits the earth’s surface, including the earth’s rotation, a country’s given position on the globe and the dispersion and absorption of light and radiation by the atmosphere.

Even when taking these factors into account, the UK receives a favourable amount of sunlight in the spring and summer months, and even in the winter the southern areas of the British Isles receive good amounts of sunlight.

 

Have all renewable projects been built with government support before?

That the Cleve Hill project will be built without government subsidy is significant, as it indicates the falling costs involved in solar generation implementation. As costs have fallen, there has been a reluctance to continue government subsidy support.

This has created some issues around the industry, but the developers behind the Cleve Hill project believe that subsidies are unnecessary, given the scale of the installation.

PV solar is currently one of the most popular sources of renewable energy available, with the Renewable Energy Association estimating that at least 75 GW of new solar capacity added in 2016 alone, bringing the global total up to 303 GW.

In 2013, installed global capacity was at 137 GW – meaning that in the space of three years, capacity more than doubled, demonstrating the popularity of PV solar as a cheap way of generating electricity.

As storage technologies and solar panels continue to develop, solar is likely to play a greater role in the transition towards renewables.

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