The UK's first subsidy-free solar farm jolts life into the sector

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Anesco chairman Steve Shine with minister for climate change Claire Perry at the Clayhill subsidy-free solar farm (Source: Anesco)

The UK's first solar farm to be built and operated without a government subsidy will open in eastern England today thanks to a rapid drop in renewable energy costs, paving the way for further funding activity in the sector.

The 45-acre Clayhill solar farm and energy storage facility, located in Bedfordshire, was built by energy provider Anesco.

The site is made up of more than 30,000 solar panels, which can generate 10 megawatts of power, or enough electricity for 2,500 homes.

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"This is the first of many, and it's a landmark day in UK terms following everything the sector's gone through," Maria Connolly, partner and leader of the energy and renewables team at law firm TLT, told City A.M.

"We'll start to see a lot more projects on this scale. But the interesting thing to watch will be whether it paves the way for much larger subsidy-free schemes," she said.

To date, the industry has successfully installed 12 gigawatts of solar capacity across Britain, and the government expects to see more developers install and connect subsidy-free sites later this year.

Connolly said developers are also looking into subsidy-free wind schemes, especially in Scotland. "We might see something over the next 12 months. That's where the sector would love to see a groundbreaking move," she said.

From an investor and developer perspective, the frustration in the sector until now has been a lack of certainty.

Because these projects now operate in a non-subsidy environment, Connolly said investors and developers can more easily assess projects.

"This might just stimulate a further round of investment and funding activity," Connolly added.

 

Steve Shine, Anesco’s executive chairman said:

For the solar industry, Clayhill is a landmark development and paves the way for a sustainable future, where subsidies are no longer needed or relied upon.

Importantly, it proves that the government’s decision to withdraw subsidies doesn’t have to signal the end of solar as a commercially viable technology.

The National Grid today announced that more than half the UK’s electricity came from low carbon sources in the last three months, making it the greenest summer on record. Almost 52 per cent of electricity generated in Britain came from low carbon sources like nuclear, wind, solar, biomass and hydro, compared with around 35 per cent four years ago.

Read more: Renewables poised to cause a major disruption to UK utilities by 2030