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Solar plans double as farmers swap crops for energy

New solar farms in the East of England to support renewable energy

There are 34 new solar generation sites across Essex, Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire compared to 17 last year

Author: Amber RoderickPublished 9 minutes ago
Last updated 9 minutes ago

Renewable energy is booming in the East of England as connection approvals for new solar farms more than doubled in a year.

Latest figures, published this month, show 34 new solar generation sites firmed up connection contracts with UK Power Networks across Essex, Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire between January and May 2021.

This is compared to the same period last year where there were just 17 solar generation sites, and four in 2019.

Once fully operational the solar farms will generate almost 840MW of energy – two and a half times the amount of new solar generation capacity accepted by UK Power Networks during the same period of 20201.

This 840MW is equivalent to more than 2 million rooftop solar panels; enough to power more than 400,000 homes with clean energy.

Most of the new sites will be mid-size solar farms on former agricultural land and are mainly located within a 30-mile radius north of the M25 across Essex, Hertfordshire, and Cambridgeshire.

The East of England is popular with renewable investors because of its flat, available land, weather conditions and its proximity to existing network infrastructure – making it easier and cheaper to connect.

The majority of the new solar sites are made possible by UK Power Networks’ new ‘flexible connections’ solution which the company began rolling out in early 2020.

The product enables owners of distributed generation to connect cheaper and faster by removing the upfront costs for upgrading the electricity network.

Generators agree to temporarily reduce the amount of energy they export at certain times to keep the network within its operational limits.

Sotiris Georgiopoulos, head of smart grid development at UK Power Networks, said:

“This extraordinary new wave of solar is the culmination of years of hard work and dedication from teams across our business.

“We’ve invested, engaged and implemented world-leading innovation to facilitate sustainable renewable energy. Now, we need to go even further and faster to make Net Zero emissions by 2050 a reality.”

An ‘accepted connection’ means sites have planning permission and contracts between generation owners and UK Power Networks have been signed.

With their connection to the electricity network approved, generators will make a down payment on connections costs, and renewable sites are then built and can begin generating electricity from as early as a few months.

New large-scale batteries acceptances also soared this year, including a 90+ MW site in East Essex.

Nine new battery connections were accepted between January-May 2021 with a total capacity of 385MW, up from just three January-May 2020.

The increase is in part driven by new commercial energy markets which allow investors to store energy and sell it during peak times.

The increase in new large scale battery and solar acceptances marks continued progress in the UK Power Networks’ drive to facilitate renewable energy through solutions like flexible connections.

Despite the Covid pandemic, 2020 saw the highest number of new clean generators acceptances in the East of England in the last nine years.

Dr Nina Skorupska CBE, Chief Executive of the Association for Renewable Energy and Clean Technology (REA), said:

“The rapid expansion of solar capacity in the East of England underlines the region’s importance to the UK’s energy transition.

“Not only will these schemes power more than 400,000 homes with clean, sustainable energy, it will also help stimulate much needed new investment in the region.

“It is now crucial that this momentum is maintained so we can continue to decarbonise our energy supply chain and meet our net zero ambitions.”

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