Primrose Solar connects 48 MW PV plant, UK's largest solar farm

The U.K.’s largest and greenest solar farm has been connected to the grid this week by solar power company Primrose Solar.

The 48 MW Southwick Estate Solar Farm, located near to the town of Fareham close to England’s southern shoreline, has been developed with the highest ecological standards in mind, claim Primrose Solar, and can supply enough clean electricity to feed the needs of 14,500 local households.

Constructed over the course of a muddy, rainy winter, and connected in time to benefit from the U.K.’s renewable obligation (RO) certification scheme at a rate of 1.4, the Southwick Estate Solar Farm has become Britain’s biggest single installation, with the developers Solarcentury claiming it to be its greenest, too.

Surrounded by woodland, the site has a low visual impact on the landscape, and boasts a number of public footpaths crossing through it.

Built on Grade 4 agricultural land – considered unsuitable for growing crops – the plant’s environmental impact is also low, with Primrose Solar working with Wychwood Biodiversity – co-authors of the U.K.’s BRE National Solar Centre guidelines on biodiversity in solar farms – in order to create a habit management plan for the site.

This will include ensuring the site’s 25-year lifetime consistently meets the highest ecological standards via an array of innovative programs, such as the sowing of wildflowers on the land between the panels, the planting of hedgerows and trees around the site, the creation of small ponds to encourage wildfowl, and the installation of beehives and bat boxes in April to ensure wider diversity.

In the winter, sheep will be ushered on to the land to graze among the panels, ensuring the land can be classified as food-producing as well as energy-producing.

During construction, an equally eco-conscious set of measures were introduced, including the use of solar-powered and biodiesel generators, complete, 100% recycling of food served on site, the installation of a composting permanent toilet, a car sharing scheme, and CCTV installed that runs on hydrogen fuel cells.

"We’re incredibly excited to have completed such a large and complex project, which will make a major contribution to the U.K.’s renewable energy targets," said Primrose Solar COO, Nicola Waters. "With most of the work happening over the winter, conditions have been challenging to say the least, and very, very muddy. But it won’t take long for the grass and wild flowers to get established around the panels so nature can take its course."

The Southwick Estate Solar Farm might well hold on to its title as the largest PV installation in the U.K. for some while given the government’s confirmation this week that its future solar strategy is to shift support from ground mount to large-scale buildings.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change’s (DECC) head of solar PV and hydro, Richard Cave, told investors this week that the "largely untapped" commercial and industrial rooftop sector of the U.K. will be its focus moving forward, adding that DECC is to assess the current FIT and examine ways to make this sector more attractive for small businesses in the U.K.