Warrington signs massive solar plus battery storage deal. The Warrington Borough Council has signed a groundbreaking deal that will enable it to generate all of its electricity from solar power and make millions of pounds in profit each year.
The council has agreed to pay £62.3 million for two solar farms totalling 60.4 MW, plus 27 MW of battery storage. This is a hugely ambitious project that will make a huge difference to Warrington signs carbon footprint and generate huge amounts of revenue for the council.
Both the council and Gridserve, the company behind the project, believe it creates a blueprint for other local authorities to follow. Warrington’s huge investment in renewable energy will be a major boost to the UK’s transition to a low-carbon future.
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Once the solar farms are completed, the council will take ownership of them. By supplying its own power, Warrington will be able to lock in prices and cut its bills by around £2 million a year. The council expects to make £150 million in surplus from the solar farms over 30 years, which will be fed back into frontline services. Gridserve, founded by former CEO and co-founder of Belectric, Toddington Harper, will continue to operate the assets.
Cllr Russ Bowden, Leader of Warrington Borough Council, stated that local authorities play a critical role in decarbonising the economy. He called on other councils to follow the lead of Warrington Borough Council and create similar “working models” for their own projects. The Association for Public Service Excellence (APSE) has deemed Warrington Borough Council’s model as ‘prudent, commercially viable and of high investment grade’.
Gridserve’s Harper believes that more councils will follow suit and adopt similar practices. He said that the subsidy-free model is “genuinely sustainable and delivers multiple wins for everybody”.
No subsidy, no limits
Since selling Belectric, Harper has been working on making solar power viable without subsidies. He thinks the Warrington deal is a turning point.
“Previously, everything was driven by a subsidy, a pot, a target. All of a sudden we don’t have any of that, we are limited merely by the extent of our ambition.”
That means “no more scrabbling in mid-winter mud, racing to finish projects” to hit a subsidy-driven deadline. Crucially, he said, it requires “much greater intelligence” around how the power is used.
“In the subsidy environment, projects were designed around those subsidies. There was not a great amount of attention about the energy itself once it went into the grid,” said Harper.
That led to imbalances and inefficiencies, which require further actions and payment to correct.
“That’s not particularly clever,” said Harper. “If we are going to have an infrastructure based primarily on renewable energy, you have to make projects part of the solution.”
Without subsidies, solutions have to be more efficient to deliver maximum value. Gridserve thinks it will deliver 20 per cent more power by combining bifacial panels and tracking technology at Warrington. Bifacial panels generate energy on both sides – from ambient light on the back, from daylight on the front.
Trackers rotate the PV panels from east to west, smoothing out generation curves throughout the day. That is important in a world where income is market-driven, said Harper.
Harper explains that solar farms that are designed to make index-linked returns, rather than having an impact on the grid, will typically have panels facing south and will produce the most power around noon. Without subsidies, he says, solar farms would not be able to sell their power to the grid when everyone else is also trying to sell their power, and prices would fall. This would not be helpful for the grid system.
“The trackers and the bifacials help us to generate more power, and to generate it more evenly throughout the day,” said Warrington. “There is still a curve, but it is much flatter, and this generates additional financial benefit as well as benefits for the grid.”
Adding a battery enables Warrington to spread the load further, and potentially export more power at peak times, or whenever the system needs it most. This not only helps with meeting energy demands, but also provides additional financial benefits.
The import-export connection between Warrington and the national grid means that Warrington can draw power from the grid when there is too much wind or too little demand. This is a growing challenge for National Grid, but batteries can provide the grid with a variety of services, including frequency, reactive power, and black start. Even without contracts from National Grid or DSOs, batteries can be used to time shift power when it makes sense.
Harper went on to say that Gridserve has been rather conservative in its modelling for both York and Hull, but that ultimately they could end up making money for the council in more ways than one.
“We have actually put a lot of potential revenue lines at zero. That way, when we over deliver, everybody is happy. But anything is possible. We can do much more with these projects than we are forecasting – and that’s something we’re really excited about.”