Gridserve delivers first ‘bifacial’ solar farm for Warrington Council

Gridserve has announced the completion and handover of a 34.7MWp solar farm at York  to Warrington Borough Council. The project uses a new commercial model with 30MWh of battery storage.

Toddington Harper, chief executive and founder of Grideserve, said: “Projects like this, which also require no government subsidy whatsoever, demonstrate that the UK can meet its net zero obligations well before 2050 and enable us to move the needle in delivering radical carbon reductions within the next 10-years”.

“We’ve completely rethought the solar model to maximise value, and we’ve now demonstrated that we have what it takes to make projects like this a reality. To replicate this success, we are now looking to partner with additional landowners, developers, and to acquire project rights.”

Warrington Borough Council is also purchasing a second 25.7MWp solar farm at Hull, which is due to be handed over early next year. Gridserve will operate and maintain both projects over their lifetimes to maximise system performance and value for the council.

 

In the April 2019 issue of New Power Report Janet Wood discussed the projects in an interview with Toddington Harper, reproduced below.

Warrington Borough Council has announced plans to acquire two new large solar farms that will supply the power used by the council for decades and gain income from providing grid services.

The assets are a 34.7MWp hybrid solar farm plus 27MW lithium-ion battery storage to be built on 198 acres of low-grade agricultural land at Boscar Grange, York. It is expected to be operational by October 2019. A 25.7MWp solar farm at Hull, on 131 acres of low-grade agricultural land near Bilton, will follow. A battery storage system is also planned to be installed at Hull in a later phase of the project – developer Gridserve said both sites had connection agreements with full import and export capacity.

Warrington Borough Council will pay £62.34 million for the assets and will take ownership when they are operational.

Gridserve will continue to operate and maintain the solar farms over their lifetimes. Toddington Harper, chief executive and founder of Gridserve and former chief executive and co-founder of Belectric UK, told New Power that York and Hull will be the first UK solar farms to use bifacial solar panels, which generate energy on both sides, from direct sunlight on the top and diffuse ambient light from below.

The PV panels will also use trackers which follow the sun. Manufacturers claim the bifacial PV can increased energy conversion by 25%, Harper said, and the tracking panels will allow power to be generated for much longer. Gridserve believes that those two changes will increase output from the arrays by 20% compared with conventional solar.

Although both developments are new to the UK, they have several years of operating history in other markets, Harper said, so he said he was confident that there would be little additional technology risk or maintenance costs from the tracking panels. He added that they could also help reduce conventional maintenance costs (such as cleaning the PV).

Power will be sold to Warrington under a power purchase agreement with a sleeving arrangement and discussions are being finalised with a potential supplier. The PV arrays and batteries will be actively managed. The tracking arrays will generate more of their power outside typical PV peak times, so the price achieved will be less subject to ‘cannibalisation’, Harper said. He also expects to use the battery to time-shift, so that when the wholesale price is low (often peak solar periods) the supplier will buy power from the wholesale market to supply the council, and charge the batteries for maximum export when the price increased.

Gridserve prequalified the York battery for last year’s Capacity Market auction but “the price was so low it wasn’t worth taking on the obligations it puts on you”, Harper said. He expects to “support Warrington with all the [power] contracts available”, and the battery would be prequalified in the next auction, he said. After his solar experience at Belectric, “I wanted to make sure [any new project] was not dependent on third party subsidy and the Capacity Market felt a bit like that”.

It is “a revenue line but it’s a nice to have, not a need to have”, he said.

The project was given the go-ahead by National Grid only on condition that it did not cause voltage issues on the local transmission network. That meant it had to be able to manage reactive power on site and Harper said that is a service it can offer to the local distribution network, although so far that has not been explored.

Talking in general about the rollout of sustainable energy, Harper noted that although subsidies such as the Feed-in Tariff had helped bring down the price of renewables, “there were so many [projects] built that someone else had to mitigate the effects” such as managing voltage. But he said: “We have proven we can mitigate our own effects,” and he hoped that could also be offered as a service to the local grid. He has several other grid service revenue lines planned including frequency response and black start as well as reactive power but at the moment “those are at zero”, he said.

Gridserve and Warrington also plan to install ‘Electric Forecourts’ linked to both sites once they are up and running, offering supercharging for up to 24 electric vehicles simultaneously. Work on the first forecourt, at York, will start immediately once the solar farm is up and running.

The two sites, which are partly chosen because they are “adjacent to roads with high trip generation”, will have chargers that are 500kW-capable, Harper said, to charge vehicles “as fast as their batteries allow”. That might have required grid reinforcement but siting the forecourts alongside the PV arrays and batteries means they can be installed without adding to the planned grid connection.

 

Further reading

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