The solar+storage route to decentralized energy

S_Hodgson

I experienced off-grid life for a few days in a field a couple of weeks ago – at one of Britain’s growing number of outdoor music festivals. What would have been run on diesel generators just a few years ago this year boasted 100% renewables – a mixture of biodiesel-fuelled generators and temporary, ground-mounted PV panels. Curiously, the site was overlooked by half-a-dozen utility-scale wind turbines.

Festivals – particularly those that claim a green conscience – have pioneered on-site renewables for quite a while. Even fifteen years ago, most of the converted van-dwelling travellers that populated green-fringe festivals owned a couple of PV panels and a heavy-duty battery to run their low-voltage light systems. An early example of PV with storage – boat and caravan owners have also been doing this for years. We also saw bike pedal-powered phone-charging facilities.

Festivals are classic off-grid events: relatively small in scale, temporary, and with modest energy loads. Most of the UK festival operators are working towards more sustainable operations defined by their own ‘Festival Vision 2025,’ which includes targets for carbon footprints, recycling rates etc.

Towards the other end of the spectrum, one or two industrial operators have seen the value of tapping into their own decentralized energy system. Deeside Industrial Estate in North Wales now has its own ‘private wire’ connection to a 50 MW solar PV farm 1.3 km away – said to be the country’s largest private wire arrangement for commercial use. The PV farm will provide UPM Shotton’s paper mill with renewable energy for the next 25 years, and can supply 100% of the plant’s demand during daylight hours, according to the solar developer. Using nearly on-site PV, the customer also avoids non-commodity charges such as transmission and distribution costs.

Last, also in the UK, the Brighton Energy Cooperative is installing PV panels on the roof of the ‘Big Lemon’ electric bus company depot on the south coast of England. The PV installation is sized to meet the electrical needs of the buses and, with the aid of on-site battery storage, buses are recharged overnight with renewable electricity.

British festival goers, electric bus drivers and now paper mill operators have all taken on the PV – sometimes with storage – route to decentralized energy.

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