Southern England prepares for massive solar farm expansion

Ofgem plans to increase green electricity generation near London could transform farmland in southern England into solar farms equivalent to 40,000 football fields.

The report suggests that new solar farms in the Home Counties, East Anglia and South would generate 20 gigawatts. This is equivalent to installing up to 60,000,000 industrial solar panels. Onshore Wind Farms with 2-3,000 turbines would generate another 4-6GW in the Home Counties, South and South-East.

Total output is roughly equivalent to 13 nuclear reactors.

The proposal may reduce CO2 emissions and bills, as well as boost energy security in the South. However, solar farms require 2,500 acres for every gigawatt.

These benefits could come at a price, however. Up to 50,000 acres fertile farmland would be converted into wind and solar farms of industrial scale.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England has warned that the plan may result in many tenant farmers being thrown off their lands, increasing pressure on the Green Belt, and changing rural landscapes.

Ofgem, Government’s energy regulator says that it could reduce consumer bills by £51bn in 15 years. These proposals are part a wider plan for “locational price” which would see the wholesale electricity prices, which are currently the same throughout Britain, vary by region.

Prices in each region will be determined by local demand and supply, as well how close the power stations are located to the consumers.

Consumers in London and the South East, the regions most remote from offshore and northern wind farms, would pay the highest prices.

In contrast, consumers in Scotland, where there are already thousands of wind turbines onshore and along their coasts, will pay much less.

Ofgem’s study suggests that increasing electricity prices in south-east, where demand and supply are weakest, will encourage solar developers.

The government would encourage them to purchase large tracts of land in the region stretching from London up to Bristol, and then up to Norwich and Cambridge to build solar parks and wind farm.

The report has just been published and divides the UK in seven pricing zones. Southern England and East Anglia are located in regions GB6 & GB7.

The report said that more than 20GW new solar capacity will be installed in GB6 by 2040, attracted by the higher prices of nodal (regional) power and better climate conditions.

A spokesperson said: “Consumer savings from locational pricing can reach £51bn by 2025-2040… This would be equivalent of £56 per year for domestic consumers.”

He acknowledged, however, the Scottish consumers will benefit most, with an average savings of £60 per year, while Londoners will only gain £10 each year.

Solar farms are causing damage to landscapes, say those most affected. Paul Harding of Great Wymondley Village Association in Hertfordshire said: “Our residents in Wymondley face being consumed in Wymondley by two solar farm, taking a combined 123 hectares in the green belt, very close to listed buildings and conservation areas.

“Each region of the country must contribute to national well-being in the most effective way possible. For the South East, that does not cover our farmland and solar panels.”

David Mairs from CPRE Kent said that “Land has been sacrificed to solar farms in our county.” Cleve Hill, on the North Kent Marshes was wrong in every way. Thanet in the east is surrounded by wind farms that ruin the seascape.

The gung-ho attitude being proposed is not justified, just on the grounds of landscape.

Some green campaigners believe that regional pricing and generation are essential. Simon Skillings is an analyst with E3G, a think tank for energy, and believes that locational pricing will be crucial to keep bills low and boost renewables. “It must happen to prevent wasting enormous amounts of money,” he said. We believe that the electricity system will not be able to function efficiently without it. This isn’t a major policy decision – it’s an absolute necessity.

Other energy companies are fans as well. Rachel Fletcher is the economics director of Octopus Energy which provides 5.3 million UK customers. She said that the company strongly supports locational pricing because it will reduce costs for consumers and accelerate the reduction of carbon emissions in the UK.

She said that “Locational Pricing will Benefit Every Household in the UK.” It would encourage the use of renewables nearer to the point where the electricity is consumed, and we could make the best use of our grid.

It would also attract energy-intensive industries like a areas where renewable energy is already abundant, creating thousands of jobs along the way. This would attract energy-intensive businesses like data centers in areas with abundant renewable energy, creating thousands jobs.

Trade bodies are cautious, warning that the disruption of changing a system established would discourage investors. Solar Energy UK director of policy, Gemma Grimes, said that making energy prices volatile and disrupting investor trust and increasing capital costs at this time is not helpful.

A Department for Energy Security and Net Zero spokesperson said that it would be consulting soon on locational pricing and potential for solar expansion: “We are looking at a range options and incentives to help better match where energy generation and use is taking place, and helping to ensure fair deals for consumers.”

We continue to work closely together with the industry and other stakeholders to refine and develop options for reform in preparation for a second consultation, which is expected to take place this fall.