A pioneering new service for renewable energy developers and wind farm owners is being launched by environmental and engineering consultancy Wardell Armstrong. “Solar wind” is designed to optimise the full capacity of expensive grid connections by incorporating ground-mounted solar panels on the same site as wind turbines.
With an estimated total capacity of onshore wind across all stages of development now as high as 19,703MWe, planning permission is becoming ever harder to secure. Returns can be high but are limited by turbines typically generating only around 35% of their capacity because of variations in wind strength – even though grid connections are sized at maximum capacity.
The cost of these connections can be a very significant portion of development capital cost. Their availability in parts of the UK is also becoming increasingly constrained. Anything that can be done to improve utilisation and make the best use of expensive assets is therefore very worthwhile.
“It makes perfect commercial sense to think about adding solar generation to existing or proposed wind farms,” said Neil Sutherland, Wardell Armstrong regional director and specialist in renewables planning. “Bolting on solar effectively takes advantage of a free grid connection. It can make good use of wasted capacity, improve the value of the site, increase the profitability of the project and enhance overall sustainability. It also makes solar viable right across the UK, including up to the north of Scotland. Any planning or community resistance may well also be lower on an existing site, since ground-mounted panels are much smaller in terms of visual envelope and impact. It could be the next big practical breakthrough in renewable energy.”
Wardell Armstrong’s new solar wind service follows several months of researching wind and solar data at different sites and gaining interest from developers. It involves a feasibility assessment, site design, a financial assessment of potential returns, and (if positive) the handling of planning proposal submissions including further detailed assessments such as landscape, ecology and archaeology.
As the UK market leader in ground-mounted solar feasibility and planning, the consultancy is well placed to advise on the advantages and practicalities of solar wind. It has been involved variously in assessing, securing permission and managing discharge conditions for more than 500MW of solar installations since 2009 – including the UK’s first consented solar park at a disused tin mine near Truro in Cornwall.