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

Fourth site visit to the solar farm

2 days ago we took our fourth trip up to the farm to take a look at the site. Its over 400 miles a day of driving to do the round trip, so not something done lightly. Luckily this time we had arranged to be there when it was super-sunny, which is always a nicer way to visit a solar farm. Sun might mean no mud, but it doesn’t change the fact that this is a farm full of grazing sheep. 2 days later and I still have not got all of the sheep crap off my boots. After a while you stop looking where you are treading…

Because we are in the phase of the site build where MOST of the panels are up, and they are being wired, there is not much change to see on a day-to-day process. Most people would struggle to notice if the panels in a farm were wired-in. The wiring is always looped around the metal frame, then bundled into metal channels and cable tied together, so its not like you should expect to see cable trailing on the ground. There is a kind of minimum height to aim for with most of the cabling, which is above the height a sheep can gnaw at.

Here is an image near the end of a row showing the bundled cabling that runs along connecting the panels, and how it goes into the big chunky inverter:

Normal inverters just have one ‘string’ of panels connected to them, but industrial ones have multiple strings. This allows the inverter to do clever voltage balancing so that each cluster of panels is operating as efficiently as possible given that some may be a bit more shaded than others at certain points in the day. When you have just 10 panels on your roof, it tends to be ‘cloudy’ or ‘sunny’ at any point in time, and the inverter will adjust accordingly, but when you have 4 acres of panels, the conditions are going to always vary across even just 300 panels (one inverter) so you need the inverter to be more adaptable.

Not all the panels are connected yet. I insisted on being ‘that guy’ who wanted to plug one in personally!

This was our first visit where we saw panels installed on the right hand side of the overhead line. This makes the farm feel much bigger, and it will feel bigger still once that overhead line is moved and the two sections of panels can be joined. Waiting for confirmation on the grid connection works date and the substation and earthing design has been the biggest headache for me in recent weeks. It does feel impossible to get progress to move at any faster rate. Basically electricity generation connection in the UK has been handed over to private monopolies with no demand that they proceed in a reasonable timeframe. You have no choice but to just accept their quotes and their timescales. Its a huge scandal that nothing is done about it, but then we have a government who actively despises renewable energy, so I doubt anything will change until a new government. Very depressing…

On a happier note, it always makes me feel good to get a sense of perspective in photos like this showing how much renewable energy my little company is building:

I also had some genuinely great news, by co-incidence while I was at the farm. I had got ‘indicative quotes’ from the company building the farm for how much I could get for the power, in what is called a ‘power purchase agreement’ (PPA). You sign these for 1, 2 or 3 years with a fixed price to take all the power you generate. Of course in real physical terms, your power will flow to the nearest demand, which will be local villages and a nearby town in Shropshire, but in market terms, someone will contract to pay me for my power, and that could be anyone.

The interesting thing is that there is a dual market here. There is a simple PPA, where someone wants electricity, and they will buy it anywhere. It could come from nuclear, coal, gas, oil, wind or even from France or Norway. There is a thriving free market for this stuff. Then there is the REGO market. REGO is “Renewable Energy Guarantee of Origin”.

A REGO is a virtual certificate you get if you generate a megawatt-hour of renewable energy. It proves that the power came from a real renewable source. The REGO is basically traded on the free market, and keeps people honest. You cant sell the same REGO to 2 people, so it means if 10 companies each want 1,000 MWH, then they need to do deals with renewable generators who can provide that much power. If demand exceeds supply, the price of REGOs will go up, and vice versa.

For anybody super cynical, be aware, this system is real and works. If a company is bragging that they are 100% powered by renewable energy, they need to buy the REGOs to prove it, and only us renewable energy companies have them to sell. If you are getting your power 100% from a company that only supplies renewable generation, this is how that is enforced, and it really works.

In practice, at my scale, its not two separate things. You find a company who both needs power, and wants it to be renewable, and they give you a price for the bundle of the power + REGOs for everything you generate. In effect, this is a premium on top of the PPA I would get offered if I was a gas or coal-fired power station. Anyway… this is all a long technical explanation to say that I got 2 quotes from big (household name) energy companies and they were both WAY HIGHER than the other quotes I got. I am VERY nervous about the finances of this project, but if those prices stay in the same sort of level until I energize the plant (maybe October?) then, I will make a reasonable profit and it wont be a disaster :D.

My life will be far more chill when I finally get a date for the grid connection, or even just for the overhead line move… Fun fun fun.

One thought on

  1. Awesome to see the progress and nice to hear everything has moved along. Hopefully rest of the things go smoothly too and your power plant will start pumping out environmentally friendly electricity to people in near future. Thank you for working towards the common goal, saving the planet.

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