First Solar and Belectric start 46 MW solar project in Oxford

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German solar developer Belectric has teamed up with U.S. solar system provider First Solar to develop a 46 MW solar PV installation in the famous university city of Oxford, England.

The installation will deliver 45 million kWh of clean solar power each year, generating enough solar electricity to meet the needs of 14,000 local households – 25% of the estimated 55,400 households in the city of Oxford.

Belectric has this week broken ground on the project, which will augment the estimated 1.8 GW of utility-scale solar PV capacity set to be deployed in the U.K. over the next two quarters.

The project is the fourth joint venture (JV) between First Solar and Belectric to be carried out in the U.K., and once complete will propel the JV’s British PV portfolio to 80 MW – the equivalent of displacing 35,000 tons of carbon emissions from the U.K. atmosphere every year.

This latest solar installation will use 483,000 First Solar advanced thin film modules, with Belectric responsible for the site’s construction and balance-of-systems (BoS) requirements. As with many recent utility-scale PV developments in the U.K., the site will be subject to stringent sustainability requirements designed to minimize its impact on the local environment and, where possible, support biodiversity initiatives. In this instance, the land upon which the solar farm will be built will continue to be used for food production, and sheep will be allowed to graze underneath the panels.

A recent decision by Liz Truss, head of the Department for environment, food and rural affairs (Defra) to remove CAP (Common Agriculture Policy) subsidy payments for farmers that install solar panels on their land threatened to put paid to installations such as this, but Belectric were eager to demonstrate that solar power can play a supporting role in biodiversity and sustainable farming.

"Combined with the fact that the land under the solar arrays will remain in agricultural use, with areas set aside to support biodiversity, this is a prime example of the multiple benefits that best-in-class solar farm projects can deliver to the U.K.," said Belectric UK CEO Toddington Harper, who has previously been vocally supportive of community-backed solar projects in the U.K. and is also CEO of Big60Million, a Climate Bond community investment scheme.

Harper added that this installation will become the U.K.’s largest and most technologically advanced solar PV plant, capable of delivering enough clean energy to drive an electric vehicle more than 200 million kilometers a year. "That is the equivalent of 260 round trips to the moon," Harper said.

Christopher Burghardt, VP for Europe at First Solar, added: "This latest project is a clear indication of the fact that dramatic efficiency gains and increased cost competitiveness, particularly those driven by First Solar, have created an undeniable tipping point for solar power, not only in the U.K. but around the world."

First Solar’s efficiency gains, so crucial for this latest installation, have triggered greater demand for its products globally over the past quarter, the company revealed in its latest financial results. Having increased its fleet average efficiency to 14.2% in Q3, best line production is up to 14.6% as of October.