Game Design, Programming and running a one-man games business…

Solar Farm Update #2

So…it turns out its a loong time since I blogged about positech energy, so here we go with an update…of sorts.

Quick recap: I started a new company that is in the process of hopefully building a 1MW solar farm with 500kwh of grid-tied battery storage for frequency response/load shifting. Its privately owned by me and my wife.

Progress TAKES FOREVER if you actually want to build something in the UK. Not because of covid, or shortages, or because of Brexit (it would be convenient to blame all 3), but just because nobody in the UK, especially bureaucrats have any sense of urgency whatsoever. Its absolutely infuriating. But anyway… some progress is being made. Here is the basic high level run-down of whats involved in building a solar farm:

  • Find a site where a landowner is open to having a solar farm, and where grid connection is possible, and where grid capacity is available and planning permission is likely.
  • Get an agreement in principle with the landowner regarding rent and location of the panels, and stuff like access roads, location of substations.
  • Gather all the myriad insane pieces of paperwork, like visual impact assessments, biodiversity reports, archaeological surveys and other assorted paperwork needed to apply for planning.
  • Apply for planning permission
  • Apply to the DNO (Grid network operator for that region) for a grid connection quote.
  • Get the grid connection
  • Order battery/panels
  • Install everything
  • Profit! (ha…maybe).

The actual order these things happen in is subject to change. There is a definite matter of chicken and egg when it comes to some of them. A grid connection application costs £750, and planning permission costs £7,500 (just to apply, no guarantees). So you don’t really want to spend £7.5k without knowing if the connection is affordable, and conversely the £750 is wasted if you don’t get permission. The problem is both the DNO grid quote AND planning permission take ages, so they can easily add months each to development time.

Also note that a grid connection quote does not mean ‘we can start Monday’. It could be ‘That will be £30,000 but we cant start for six months’. This means you really ideally do not want to wait several months for planning, then maybe a month for a DNO quote and add six months on the end of that… before you know it its 2050.

So My plan is to finalize the landowner agreement, and assuming thats ok, to do the pre-planning stuff (various paperwork) at the same time as the DNO application. At least that gets the ball rolling. Then, if it turns out we fail planning permission (£7.5k wasted) then an extra £750 isn’t a complete disaster, just a relatively minor additional loss.

It may seem ages since I announced I was doing this, and to be honest, little progress has been made. We found a site…and then the site was basically nabbed by someone else. Then we found a second site…and the grid connection cost was mad (but planning already existed). We are effectively just moving a few hundred meters from that site now into another field and thus doing planning from scratch (arggghh), but we reckon the planning costs in total (£15-20k) should be less than the reduction in grid connection costs due to shorter cable runs.

So right now we are still basically on the first item on the list, but hopefully close to finalizing the second. This required a topographical survey of the site, which is basically an extremely expensive CAD drawing of the elevation, which you need to reference in a lease, so both the land owner and you are 100% agreed on what part of what field contains what equipment.

This isn’t just 10 panels on a frame, but a battery storage unit (shipping container size), 2 electricity substations (one for us, one for the grid operator), an access road and 2,760 solar panels on frames, plus 9 seriously big inverters, so you need to be in full agreement on where this goes. Plus there may be CCTV and a perimeter fence. Its quite a lot of kit…

If everything fell apart now, then I would be down a non-trivial annoying amount of money, but this is to be expected when I start an energy company and start to build actual power stations. I suspect this site will go ahead ok, but its agonizing having so many things up in the air and out of my hands. Its precisely *because* doing this is hard, that I am doing it, to show other people how to do it, and so we get more built.

Expect blogging on this to increase as we get deeper into the process of planning applications. I would tell you all the specs of the panels/inverters but TBH they are all subject to change because of the unknown timescales involved in the grid connection and planning permission. Current plans are to get South Korean cells though, due to concerns about labor practices in China.

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