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Friday, 15 May 2015

The benefits of investing in a community-owned solar array

On Saturday 9 May 2015, Low Carbon Gordano officially opened their Moorhouse Farm Solar Array, with the Mayor of Bristol George Ferguson conducting proceedings. The array, sited within the jurisdiction of Bristol on farmland between the M49 and M5, has a nameplate capacity of 1.875 MW and cost £2.2 million to install. The money was raised entirely by public share offer and community owned (and in very small part by me). Over the course of a year the array is expected to produce >1,700 MWh of electricity, which using the inevitable conversion, is enough to power 500 homes, and more importantly and relevantly for this blog, save around 850 tonnes of CO2 per annum compared to fossil fuels.

Mayor of Bristol George Ferguson officially opens the Moorhouse Array.
Image credit: Marcus Badger 
The Moorhouse Farm Array is one of a number of community owned solar arrays in the South West, an area whose large areas of farmland and (for the UK) relatively high solar irradiance makes it an ideal site for significant solar photovoltaic (PV) generation. In the UK, solar PV generation has doubled in the last year alone, from 2.4 Gw in February 2014 to 4.4 Gw in the same month this year. This “solar surge” has been almost entirely without direct government intervention, but with feed in tariffs and tax breaks for community owned projects like the Moorhouse Farm Array community groups and large scale developers are both cashing in, and making significant inroads into the UKs legally binding CO2 reduction targets. It’s not difficult to see why PV has started to surge; manufacturing cost for the PV panels themselves continues to come down, companies like Solarsense (who built the Moorhouse Array) are coming of age and have the expertise to bring projects to fruition. In the community-owned arena, raising funds through attractive share offers can be facilitated by marketplaces like Ethex and the experience of the more mature community groups (like Bath & West Community Energy) is being willingly shared to help smaller groups off the ground. Low Carbon Gordano started as a small community group, offering energy use advice and initially very small household and school energy generation projects, but now owns a multi-million pound array and has plans for more.

The fact that solar PV can nestle snugly behind farmers’ hedges also means that, inevitably, it has an easier time than onshore wind getting through the planning system. In fact in much of the South West, grid constraint (the capacity of the local and electricity grid see http://www.regensw.co.uk/our-work/onshore-electricity/tackling-grid-constraints/) is becoming the restricting factor in many places.

It’s not only grid carbon emissions that can benefit from solar arrays. Working with local wildlife trusts (like Avon Wildlife Trust for the Moorhouse Array), biodiversity around and between the panels can be managed and increased – turning a former sheepwreck into a biodiversity hotspot.

For Bristol much more Solar PV is on the way, with the council’s municipal energy company Bristol Energy set to fit solar PV to the City’s Council-owned buildings, and Low Carbon Gordano set to launch a second share offer for their next array in the next few weeks.

Part of the Moorhouse Array with the wind turbines of Bristol Dock in the
background, and water-vole rich drainage channel in the foreground.
Image credit: Marcus Badger
It’s essential for meeting our carbon reduction goals that the solar surge can continue – grid capacity, changes to feed in tariffs and the new Contract for Difference rules could all put the brakes on. We can only hope that the new Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change drives policies which can continue the solar surge in the South West and across the UK.

Part of the Moorhouse Array with the wind turbines of Bristol Dock in the background, and water-vole rich drainage channel in the foreground (photo by the author)
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This blog is written by Cabot Institute member Dr Marcus Badger, a Research Associate in the Schools of Chemistry and Geographical Sciences at the University of Bristol. His research is focussed on reconstructing greenhouse gases on multi-million year timescales, using both fossil organic compounds and fully coupled three dimensional model approaches.

Marcus is a small investor in the Moorhouse Array and an LCG member.
Marcus Badger

Follow Marcus Badger @climate_badger.

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