Gridserve to deploy 60 MW of bifacial-plus-tracking projects in the UK

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U.K. renewables developer Gridserve says it has signed off a deal with Warrington Borough Council, Investec Bank and Leapfrog Finance for the construction of two PV parks, with capacities of 34.7 MW and 25.7 MW.

The developer said both parks will feature bifacial modules and one of them a large-scale, 27 MW storage system that offers a capacity of 30 MWh. The projects will mean Warrington BC will become the first U.K. local authority to generate all its electricity from renewable energy. The council, in the northwest of England, expects to bank millions of pounds per year in income from the plants.

Construction of the first, 34.7 MW solar-plus-storage park will begin across the country in York imminently, according to Gridserve, which is swimming against the tide of a moribund utility-scale market in the U.K. by constructing what would be the nation’s largest solar projects since 2016.

The second, 25.7 MW project will be built near Hull, also in the northeast of England.

“Warrington Borough Council has agreed to pay £62.34 million for the two assets and will take ownership when they are operational,” said Gridserve, which will carry out operations and maintenance contracts on both sites.

Gridserve CEO Toddington Harper said: “Warrington is leading the way in showing councils how solar and battery storage can help generate sustainable income to deliver vital public services, meet climate targets with clean energy and support a low carbon economy. These will be the most advanced solar farms in the UK – and quite possibly the world – ushering in a new era of subsidy-free, truly sustainable energy. We’ve completely rethought the solar model, looking in detail at how to maximize value at every step, and these projects will also pioneer the use of cutting-edge technologies that serve the grid.”

Tech-features and novelties

The projects will deploy Suntech’s bifacial modules combined with a single-axis tracker by Nextracker. Using bifacial modules with tracking at such scale for commercial use is a novelty. Until now, only a small number of bifacial test sites – all with lower capacities – had been built in Europe. Similarly, there has not previously been an economic case to use single-axis trackers so far north.

“The reduction in capex costs for trackers now means that they also make economic sense in the U.K.,” Harper told pv magazine. “The primary interest for Gridserve in using trackers, however, is providing even more generation throughout the day, rather than the maximum output around 12 noon each day, which creates greater exposure to pricing risk.”

The 27 MW/30 MWh lithium-ion battery storage system at York will be the largest collocated at any U.K. solar plant. Gridserve will also install its Electric Forecourts system at the sites to provide superfast charging for 24 electric vehicles. The company plans to install a nationwide network of such charging points.

Subsidy free with council PPA

“Warrington will have a power purchase agreement with its Hull solar farm, effectively paying itself for the energy it buys,” added the Gridserve boss. “It will enter into a sleeving agreement with a licensed energy supplier who will balance supply and demand. So, Hull will deliver the electricity it generates to the supplier and Warrington will draw electricity from the supplier when it needs to consume it.”

The Hull project will supply the council’s electricity demand and is expected to cut its energy bills by up to £2 million a year. The electricity from York will reportedly be retailed on the open market, at least initially, although nearby local authorities have expressed interest in buying electricity from the site.

“The York solar farm and battery storage system is being built on 198 acres of low-grade agricultural land at Boscar Grange, near Easingwold, north of the city, and it is expected to be operational by October 2019,” said the Gridserve statement publicizing the projects. “Construction at Hull Solar Farm, on 131 acres of low-grade agricultural land near Bilton, east of the city, will follow.”

As part of the funding deal with social impact investor Leapfrog, Warrington Council will invest £85,000 a year of its income from the projects into a community benefit fund to deliver social and environmental outcomes in the town. Gridserve will make a £100,000 contribution to fund specific initiatives associated with the fund’s goals.