Renewable energy parks will speed progress towards net zero future

Marjorie Glasgow - Ridge Clean Energy

Home » Renewable energy parks will speed progress towards net zero future

Published: May 10, 2024

This Article was Written by: Marjorie Glasgow - Ridge Clean Energy


We are delighted to see our CEO Margie Glasgow write this Op-Ed for the London Evening Standard, focussing on the benefits of co-located solar, wind and battery on single renewable energy parks.

With green policies taking a central role in this election year, the question at the heart of every conversation around achieving net zero emissions is: ‘How can we speed up the drive towards net zero while meaningfully supporting local communities?’ When it comes to building more renewable energy parks, in particular, some politicians remain sceptical, concerned about sacrificing too much land and resources in the race to net zero.

In reality, we can do much more with what we have, carefully stewarding Britain’s already-abundant natural resources. A recent Friends of the Earth report shows that England alone could produce 13 times more renewable energy than it does now while using less than 3% of its land. The UK is a densely populated country and every piece of land should be treated with care, especially in London and the south-east, which is the most populous region in the UK. But we have enough lower quality land that offers great potential, and which can be used without compromising agricultural production. We also have excellent natural resources in this country, in the form of high wind speeds and robust irradiance levels.

However, we are not using them as thoughtfully as we should.

The co-location of solar, wind, and battery storage on a single renewable energy park is one such solution. Only 12% of all UK renewables developments have co-located solar and battery, or wind and battery combinations (according to RenewableUK). Just a fraction of those are currently developing parks that house all three. Despite a strong focus on green energy overall, last year’s election manifestos have not given this idea much consideration. As a case in point, the recent government’s contract consultation launched in March only briefly looks at co-location as an option.

Co-location is a more efficient way to generate electricity. Solar and wind energy complement each other’s generation patterns both seasonally and daily, with solar panels producing electricity during the day and wind turbines operating more consistently throughout the day and night. They also help equalise production throughout the year, with stronger winds in the winter and more sun in the summer. For example, adding four 4MW wind turbines to an average-sized 50 MW solar site, would increase green energy production from around 50,000 MWh annually to over 100,000 MWh, effectively doubling the delivery of home-grown clean energy on a single site. Further, efficiently producing energy in areas close to where it will be used, reduces the need for costly and inefficient long-distance transmission, making co-location especially productive in highly-populated regions.

With the integration of battery we can also save more energy. Rather than curtailing or being forced to switch off a given technology, excess power can be stored, ultimately stabilising the grid. Battery storage systems smooth out fluctuations in renewable energy generation, optimising the time of delivery for highest need and dispatching energy to where it is needed. This is particularly important in high-demand areas like the south-east, where energy peaks can strain the traditional grid infrastructure.

Bringing together solar, wind, and battery storage also offers significant economic advantages through economies of scale and shared infrastructure costs, as well as making our power supply more resilient and abundant. This would help keep electricity prices low and finally help wean the UK off its reliance on fluctuating fossil fuel prices.

Local communities will benefit from higher revenues generated by co-located sites through more funding available for community initiatives and investments. For example, an average size energy park that combines solar, wind and battery storage could generate up to five times the income through community funds than solar alone. This is working on the basis that solar alone would generate around £25,000 per year on a 50MW Solar farm, compared to £125,000 per year for a solar site that also includes four 4MW wind turbines and battery storage that can hold up to 50MW. This is a win-win for local communities who can use these funds for projects they need or care about, like the recent restoration and reopening of the abandoned Inveraray Pier in Loch Fyne, Argyllshire this April.

Finally, consolidating infrastructure development and reducing land disturbance means that we can avoid the most sensitive local ecosystems and biodiversity and leave more designated landscapes untouched. It keeps sites concentrated and prevents projects from sprawling, whilst providing significant opportunities for focusing efforts on biodiversity uplift.

With nearly 50% of electricity now coming from renewable sources, we are making great strides towards net zero. However, when it comes to productive and efficient renewables development, we need a step change. We can fully embrace innovative solutions that can enhance the drive towards decarbonising the grid. If we are to stand a chance in meeting the 2050 net zero targets, the incoming Government needs to let everyone in the energy sector, and especially among local communities, embrace innovative solutions like co-located renewable energy parks.

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