Solar PV was once the preferred technology for landowners seeking to host an energy project, due mainly to the relative ease with which a scheme could be granted planning consent compared to other technologies. However, just as the technology started to mature, withdrawal of Government-backed subsidies appeared to signal its demise. Concurrently, Battery Storage and Peak Power Generation (PPG) schemes emerged as a new opportunity for landowners; technology designed to help balance the electricity distribution network by addressing problems caused by the intermittent nature of wind and solar PV generation.
As the Battery Storage and PPG Market continued to grow from strength to strength, in September 2017 Bloomberg released a report highlighting a tipping point in UK renewable energy deployment; it became cheaper to generate electricity by solar and offshore wind than by creating new coal, gas or nuclear fired power stations. This watershed moment occurred in the absence of subsidies, as costs decreased and perception of risk reduced as performance data collected over a number of years provided certainty of investor returns.
Consequently, we are seeing solar developers re-entering the market with a revised business model that no longer relies on subsidies, and produces viable revenues by securing long term Power Purchase Agreements (PPA) with large energy consumers. Whilst this provides an opportunity for consented solar PV sites that were shelved when subsidies were cut, it is important for landowners to fully appreciate the merits of their site in order to determine whether it is best suited to solar PV or the more recent Battery Storage and PPG technology.
Public perception of solar is positive so planning applications are less likely to receive objections; a recent Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) survey found 84% of people support the technology. In addition, as a passive technology, solar is more suited to sensitive sites where noise or emissions are not acceptable, making it more likely to be granted consent in rural locations.
In contrast, with the application of Battery Storage and PPG technology for grid balancing being in its infancy, it is not widely understood by planning officers or the public, and as such the limits of the planning system are still being tested. However, it is harder to obtain planning permission in rural areas, due to the industrial/commercial perception of the technology, and its lack of green credentials. However, a case may be argued for development on agricultural land where existing energy infrastructure exists nearby, such as a substation or overhead line. Proximity to residential property may also be an issue due to the small amount of noise produced by cooling fans, but this is likely to be dependent on existing background noise levels and can sometimes be addressed with appropriate screening.
Similar in many ways to Battery Storage, Gas Generation developments require additional consideration to exhaust emissions that may limit the size of developments . The technology lacks the green credentials of battery storage and solar PV and is therefore less likely to receive support from the public and planners. This, in turn, may affect the likelihood of planning consent being granted in rural areas and on sites close to residential properties.
Whilst the public perception of solar developments is positive, they require an area up to 100 times the size of battery storage and PPG schemes, and as a result rental yields per acre are not as strong. In the current subsidy-free solar landscape, very large scale development is likely to be necessary to achieve the economies of scale required to make schemes viable, which may in turn face more opposition in the planning process than previous schemes, and if greater than 50 Megawatts in size, will require a Development Consent Order from the National Planning Inspectorate as a Nationally Significant Infrastructure project.
Although this article covers solar, battery and PPG, landowners with property near the strategic road network should also be aware of the opportunities emerging for electric vehicle charging stations required to meet the growing demand for this technology.
A knowledge of the grid and planning system are key to choosing the right opportunity for your site. For further information or to explore which is best for your business contact our energy experts:
0113 203 1099