Installation begins on 3 MW floating solar array in U.K.

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The U.K. is poised to become home to one of the largest floating solar farms in the world after construction began today on a 3 MW array on the Godley reservoir in the northeast English county of Greater Manchester.

Utilizing 12,000 solar panels and being installed at a cost of £3.5 million ($5.4 million), the array from water company United Utilities will dwarf the country’s current largest installation of its type – an 800-panel pilot floating on a lake in Berkshire, southern England – and will also surpass a 2.9 MW project in Japan to make it one of the largest such array in the world.

The developers face a race against the clock, however, because the system needs to be connected to the grid prior to January 1 2016 in order to be eligible for the current FIT of 6p/kWh. After that date the FIT reduces dramatically, as part of the recently agreed cuts to solar support, to just 1p/kWh.

Once connected the solar system will meet one-third of the power needs of a local water treatment works, and will utilize floating technology developed by British entrepreneur Mark Bennett.

United Utilities had been mulling a second similar floating array for another project near to the city of Lancaster, but the firm’s director of energy strategy Neil Gillespie has revealed that it is "doubtful" whether such a scheme will come to pass following the government’s FIT cuts.

The company is, however, pressing ahead with the installation of 40 MW of ground-mounted solar projects across various swathes of land under its ownership – the bulk of which should be installed in time to receive current rates of subsidy support under both the FIT and the Renewable Obligation (RO) scheme.

Paul McCarren, the energy services director at Forrest, the EPC responsible for carrying out United Utilities’ installations, said despite the proposed changes to solar subsidy, the sector is still viable for certain customers.

"For large consumers of energy, the savings achievable on energy bills by using solar continue to make it a very attractive infrastructure investment," McCarren said.