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Solar farm to save ‘hundreds of thousands of pounds a year’ off Rochdale council’s energy bills

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Plans for a brand new solar farm in Heywood in Greater Manchester are powering ahead, with the 10 hectare site set to produce enough energy to power 1,700 homes.

The electricity produced will be supplied to the national grid and used to offset the council’s annual energy bill, potentially saving the authority hundreds of thousands of pounds a year.

The project was made possible after Rochdale Borough Council successfully bid for £3.3 million funding from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). The project is being delivered by Vital Energi.

Chamber House is only the second solar farm in the borough, following the installation of one at Rochdale Leisure Centre, which helps to power the facility.

The Chamber House Solar farm will be able to produce 5.5 megawatts of electricity, which will make a significant contribution towards Greater Manchester’s target of increasing renewable energy generation by 45 MW before 2024 across the 10 boroughs.

Liam O’Rourke, cabinet member for climate change and the environment, said: “It’s great to see this vital project heating up. It’s really important for Heywood and the wider borough. All local authorities in Greater Manchester have pledged to become net zero by 2038 and schemes like this show that Rochdale is more than playing its part to help us all reach this important target.

“In addition to helping us to tackle the ongoing climate emergency, this scheme will shave thousands off the authority’s annual energy bill, which is more important than ever, as costs continue to rise.”

The new solar farm, which is expected to be operational during autumn 2023, is one of a number of schemes the council is delivering to help tackle the environmental crisis.

The borough’s 3 largest leisure centres have all had solar panels installed on their roofs, as have a selection of primary schools and other council buildings, including the Green Lane Depot and some council-owned industrial units.

Operations Manager at Vital Energi, David Oatt, said: “This is an ambitious project to create a major new solar farm capable of generating 5.5MW and is a significant step on Rochdale’s net zero journey.  We are delighted to be working in partnership with Rochdale Borough Council on a project which will contribute to a cleaner, greener Greater Manchester as well as drastically reducing the council’s energy bills.”

Oldham Council plans to slash CO2 emissions with solar farm

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A solar farm that could reduce CO2 emissions by 50 tonnes each year and save money on energy bills has been approved by Oldham Council’s cabinet.

The Council will own and potentially fund the solar farm on a former landfill site at Wrigley Head in Failsworth.

Savings could be made on Council energy bills as well as the farm generating a significant amount of renewable energy – contributing towards us achieving the ambitious carbon neutrality targets in our Green New Deal Strategy which forms part of our Creating a Better Place ambitions.

The council’s Creating a Better Place programme is creating a borough for the future where people will want to live, work, visit and socialise.

Wrigley Head Solar Farm would also improve the site in terms of biodiversity via wildflower planting and other measures, and it already has planning permission.

Cllr Abdul Jabbar, Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Finance and Low Carbon, said: “This is another exciting project that we’re delivering to enhance life for people living, working and visiting Oldham while doing what is best with our funds and the environment.

“We are already making huge headway with our Creating a Better Place programme, creating an Oldham where people will want to live, work, visit and socialise.

“We need more projects that give us power from renewable sources and saw it as vital to review Wrigley Head, which had been paused during the pandemic when energy prices dropped due to the lockdown on the economy.

“Energy prices are now much higher and are likely to stay high for the next few years at least, which means we can now return to looking at the scheme.

“We said that if the business case stacked up that we would go ahead and careful work has demonstrated that this will now help us reduce energy bills and carbon emissions alongside contributing to our carbon neutrality targets we have for Council buildings and street lights.

“At the same time, we will improve what was once an industrial landfill site and there will be wildflower planting, invasive species like Japanese knotweed will be removed and we will maintain access through the site for wild animals.”

Cabinet, at its meeting on Monday 23 January agreed to a model where the council owns and funds Wrigley Head Solar Farm and allocates £1.35m for the construction.

Previously, grants had been available to fund construction and it is possible that grants may be available again, which would reduce the budget we need to make available for the build.

Additionally, it should also contribute to achieving the Greater Manchester target of an extra 4.5 megawatt (MW) of solar power by 2025 as set out in the five-year environment plan.

The specification of the project was set in 2019 when the original feasibility work was done – it is possible that with improvements in technology, the scheme could achieve 1 MW of generating capacity.

In spring 2020, the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic and national lockdown on the economy meant that the long-term outlook for wholesale electricity prices was revised downwards and the solar farm no longer showed a viable business case at that stage.

The energy crisis and increasing costs prompted Cabinet members to return to the proposals during 2022.

The cabinet paper can be seen in full here.

Morriston Hospital in Wales green lights solar energy farm

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Morriston Hospital will become the first in Wales to develop its own full-scale solar farm, at a cost of £5.7 million. Work is expected to start early next year on the 4MW development on land at Brynwhillach Farm, linked to Morriston by a 3km private wire.

It will supply almost a quarter of Morriston’s power, cutting the electricity bill by around £500,000 a year and significantly reducing carbon emissions.

The solar farm will comprise 10,000 panels across 14 hectares of land. For comparison, the Morriston Hospital site is 18 hectares.

Swansea Bay has been awarded a total of £13.5 million for the solar farm and other energy-saving and carbon-reducing measures, repayable on an invest to save basis.

Following an extensive selection process, the health board selected Vital Energi as its partner.

Swansea Bay UHB Chair, Emma Woollett, said: “Our health board takes seriously our responsibilities to future generations by reducing our environmental impact and in particular cutting our carbon footprint.

“I’m especially delighted to see the hard work and commitment of our dedicated estates staff being rewarded in being the first health board in Wales to go green in such a pioneering yet practical way.

“Cutting our carbon footprint and cutting costs is a win-win for the health board, our patients and taxpayers.”

Swansea Bay spends around £6.9 million a year on electricity, gas water, and sewage treatment. This is expected to rise year on year, at a rate higher than inflation.

The investment in the solar farm and energy-reducing schemes will lead to a minimum guaranteed saving of more than £1.5 million a year. It will also reduce carbon emissions by around 3,000 tonnes a year.

Health board Assistant Director of Operations, Des Keighan, said the project was being delivered in two phases.

“The first phase was a range of energy conservation measures at Morriston and Singleton hospitals, and other health board premises.

“These included changing the majority of light fittings, and improving the insulation, lagging and upgrading building management systems.

“The second phase is the development of the solar farm, which will enable us to produce our own electricity.

“At peak production times this will meet the electricity demand for the entire hospital, whilst reducing our carbon emissions.

“This is in line with the Welsh Government’s commitment for the public sector to be carbon neutral by 2030.”

The energy conservation measures have been carried out throughout 2020 and will be completed early next year.

Work on the solar farm development is due to start in the early part of 2021 and should be operational by the end of the summer.

Mr Keighan added: “We will be the first health board in Wales to develop its own solar farm.

“It has been very challenging. However, with a lot of hard work from our project team, which included the Welsh Government and other key partners, we have managed to secure the development.”

Swansea Bay Chief Executive Tracy Myhill said: “As well as keeping our hospitals and facilities running 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, for our clinicians to deliver patient services, this is another example of the way in which our estates teams are making a huge contribution to our patients and communities.

“I commend everyone who has made this project a reality.”

Vital Energi Account Director Phil Mottershead said: “We were delighted to be selected as the health board’s partner.

“Being able to deliver solar energy on this scale for an NHS site is an exciting opportunity.

“Combining it with other energy conservation measures makes this a highly innovative solution for the NHS.”

Bifacial solar cell boon for Scotland?

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Research into the benefits of Scotland moving to double-sided solar panels (bifacial solar cells) could mean £400m of additional annual revenue to the Scottish economy.

Heriot-Watt University, in partnership with the Wood Group aim to build a case for bifacial panels across the globe, with the cells producing up to 25% more energy than the same projected area due to their ability to convert irradiation captured on both the front and rear sides.

The Solar Trade Association predicts that Scottish solar panels will rise to 1.5GW by 2030. The 25% enhanced energy yield of bifacial versus monofacial panels with the same projected area, could mean generation would increase to almost 2GW, equating to £400m of additional annual revenue to the Scottish economy, along with over 2,000 new jobs created.

Predictions also include £200m a year savings for Scottish industry and household and over half a billion kgCO2/year emissions reduction.

Alan Mortimer, director of innovation at Wood, said: “Heriot-Watt University is recognised as the best in its field and we are thrilled to, once again, be working together to create a low-carbon future. 

“Bifacial panels with their lower cost of energy will help accelerate the global energy transition by allowing many more companies and consumers to make the switch.

“Solar energy is one of the fastest-growing renewable technologies and through this partnership, we will not only drive continuous improvements for our customers but also boost the quality of research within the university by ensuring it has practical applications in industry.”

Scotland’s Energy Efficiency Programme (SEEP) has committed to try and make Scotlands buildings as near to zero carbon by 2050 by combining wind and solar assets. 

Facebook inks virtual power purchase agreement for renewables

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Digital Realty has signed a virtual power purchase agreement on behalf of Facebook to support the social media giant’s renewable energy goals at data centre facilities.

Under the agreement, Digital Realty has executed a long-term renewable power purchase contract to secure approximately 80 megawatts of solar power capacity for Facebook.

Digital Realty contracted with SunEnergy1, which has developed and will own and operate the solar project, to be located within Virginia Electric and Power Company territory in North Carolina.

Under the terms of the agreement, all renewable energy certificates and environmental claims will be delivered to Facebook.

The partners say the agreement marks the first back-to-back utility-scale renewable energy transaction between a data centre provider landlord utilising a virtual power purchase agreement to underpin the renewable energy supply dedicated to a customer.

Digital Realty says it worked in partnership with Facebook to structure the transaction to align with Facebook’s quality standards for new renewable energy projects within the same power grid as the data centre load.

“Our scale and position as a leader in data center sustainability enabled us to execute this first of its kind agreement in support of Facebook’s sustainability goals,” said Digital Realty Chief Executive Officer A. William Stein. “Many of our customers have specific renewable energy requirements, and we work diligently to provide cost-competitive solutions tailored to their needs. We were able to take Facebook’s quality standards and timeline into consideration and deliver this solution in a competitive marketplace and at a competitive price. We are very pleased to be part of the solution enabling Facebook to achieve its renewable energy goals.”

“Facebook is committed to supporting all of its operations with 100% renewable energy and to improving overall access to renewable markets,” said Bobby Hollis, Director of Global Energy and Site Selection at Facebook. “We are thrilled Digital Realty has entered into this agreement and hope this will serve as a model for other colocation customers seeking to support their operations with high-quality, renewable energy projects.”

To-date, Digital Realty has contracted for approximately 745,000 megawatt-hours of renewable generation annually through long-term power purchase agreements, avoiding approximately 525,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year.