The limitations on Solar electricity generation in the UK

Enso Solar Energy panels

I have followed Enso Energy Solar whose business model is to construct solar farms around grid substations in the UK. Unlike other connections to the grid this allows them to agree a contract with the grid and then assemble the land package for the solar farm around the substation. It is an astute business model.

In looking at their project pipeline two things struck me, first and no surprise is the length of the time for the planning process to gain permission for the solar farm.

The second issue was the power output per acre of the farms. These are state of the art solar farms with panels which move with the sun during the day to maximise solar collection. They also incorporate battery storage at the substations to maximise the usable electricity from solar generation to store electricity and match with demand.

As an example of the capacity, a 300 acre solar farm in South Oxfordshire is rated at 50 MW and 72000 MWH, powering 19,000 homes.  It is interesting from this to extrapolate the acreage required for solar farms to make a significant contribution to UK power generation. On a per acre basis this means 240 MWh and 63 homes. So, if we just consider homes, with 25 million homes in the UK Solar would need nearly 400,000 acres which is roughly the area of Surrey.

What I think this shows (and what I described in my book Zero Carbon Our Choice) is that the competition for land to meet zero carbon targets will pose some real challenges. Renewables, by definition, need an interest in land, a site. The land required for tree planting, solar, onshore wind, hydro and biomass is significant. The UK, like other countries, needs a policy framework to decide on these changes in land use if these technologies are to make a significant contribution to emission reduction.

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