Thames Water launches huge solar scheme

2nd August 2011


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Related tags

  • Water ,
  • Renewable ,
  • Generation

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IEMA

Thames Water is to massively expand three solar photovoltaic (PV) arrays at plants across London in a plan that is heavily reliant on the feed-in tariff scheme.

The UK’s largest water company, has signed a 25-year contract with specialist PV firm Ennoviga Solar to install and maintain arrays that are expected to cover the equivalent of 15 football pitches and produce 4.5GWh of electricity each year.

While the scheme will only cut the firm’s £80 million energy bill by £100,000 a year, De Piers Clark, commercial director at Thames Water, argued it was the right thing to do for its customers and the company.

“With the price of energy forecast to increase above inflation, the way we’ve structured this agreement will give us cheaper, renewable source of power from a secure source over the long term,” he said.

Ennoviga were able to commission and build a 450kW array on the roof of the Beckton desalination plant in Newham and 150kW arrays at the Crossness sewage works in Bexley and the Walton water treatment works in Sunbury, ahead of 1 August when the government’s controversial changes lowering FIT rates for solar PV systems.

The firm is now working to expand the Crossness and Walton arrays to 1,700kW and 2,500kW respectively, bringing the system’s capacity up to 4.5GWh, under an expansion rule detailed in the FIT Regulations.

The rule, which government has recently described as a loophole, lets companies continue to expand their installations up to 12 months after the tariff deadline and receive the higher rate. It only applies to businesses that have already built and commissioned installations, but have not been able to install the full capacity detailed on their original application.

Being able to access the higher tariffs has been crucial in ensuring the financial viability of the Thames Water scheme according to Stefano Gambro, director at Ennoviga, who criticises government’s changes to the FIT scheme and its pledge to remove the expansion rule.

“Calling this rule a loophole makes it sound like it was something that nobody knew about, but it’s always been there as a safety net for companies. It means that if a project has difficulties in completing all elements before the deadline they are not faced with the perverse situation of going from a viable project to bankruptcy overnight,” he argued.

“By changing the FIT rates to just 8p/kWh the government has made large scale solar uneconomical, when the UK is already running behind on building new power generation to ensure the future capacity the country needs.

“By working with us, Thames Water has led the industry in exploiting otherwise unusable space to generate clean electricity. When energy prices rise and carbon charging starts, the impact on Thames Water customers’ bills will now be that little bit less.”

The large solar arrays will provide 0.5% of Thames Water’s annual energy needs and the firm already has plans to install smaller PV systems at up to 100 of its other locations delivering another 0.5%.

The solar PV project will run alongside the firm’s considerable anaerobic digestion (AD) operations which produce 16% of the firm’s electricity. Thames Water, along with other AD operators, were expecting to begin receiving a higher tariff rate for their AD produced electricity yesterday, as the FIT review changes came into force. However, DECC has confirmed that the boost in incentives has yet to receive EU approval and is expected to be delay by a month.

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