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Vorsprung Durch PV

PAID for by investors, built in Nottinghamshire and connected with the help of Germans – the vast new ‘sunshine farm’ at Hawton, near Newark presents a good picture of the forces which are driving the UK’s solar industry. Or rather, have been. Covering 15.6 hectares and producing 4.86MW, this may be one of the last installations of this size to be completed in the country due to the Government’s decision to slash Feed-in Tariff payments for big jobs like this. In fact, with the subsidy reduction looming, installers and electrical engineers managed to get the Hawton installation up and connected only six week after planning permission was granted – and just two weeks before the new FiTs regime was introduced on August 1.

“The deadline meant that this was a challenging and high risk installation,” said Jo Wall, programme manager of Lark Energy, the Lincolnshire company which guided the installation’s original development. As it is, the Hawton solar park – all 21,000 solar panels of it – is one of only a handful of installations of this size in Britain. The massive reduction in subsidies for the electricity from parks of this size now in effect means it is unlikely that any more will be built in the foreseeable future.

The array at Hawton – on land owned by farmer Roger Pykett – was built by German company Conergy, which subcontracted installation work back to British firms in the region including Lark Energy and its sister company Larkfleet. The solar park’s owner is Lightsource Renewable Energy while the funding came from Octopus Investments, which manages small investors’ funds. According to Octopus Investments, the Hawton farm was one of six large solar installations in the East Midlands and East Anglia regions that it and Lightsource had up and running in the space of a week in July. Together, these farms represent an investment of £52m in both regions.
But what would have happened if the Hawton installation had failed to meet the FiTs deadline? “They would have lost a lot of money,” said Wall. “They had other options, including decommission it or running it on the reduce tariff. This was why it was a very high risk project.” Wall said that while German engineers provided the highest skilled jobs in the installation, including the actual PV panel installation, most of the other work went to subcontracted businesses in the region. Nevertheless, she shares the view of many in the solar industry that the reduction in FiTs payments for large installations will mean a sudden slowing down in the UK industry just when it should be catching up with Germany.
Although the Hawton solar park produces enough energy to supply 1,300 homes, there are no cables connecting the panels to local homes. As with most large renewable installations, the solar electricity feeds directly into the grid and effectively helps to decarbonise the electricity system while the park’s owners and investors benefit from the tariff payments over 20-odd years.        

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