UK PV 'needs subsea link relief'

Offshore power interconnectors – commonly cited as critical to the future of the UK’s on- and offshore wind resource – will also be central to Britain’s solar sector, says a leading developer.

The boom in ground-mount PV arrays in the UK over the past two years has led to crippling grid constraints in sunny parts of the country, which may only find sufficient relief in the form of subsea power lines running abroad, according to David Maguire, founding director at BNRG Renewables.

“We’re constantly coming up against the wall of available [grid] capacity,” Maguire says.

“From our perspective, we can’t connect anything in Cornwall, anything on the Isle of Wight.

"This is gradually moving from the south coast of England further and further north, and as a solar developer we want to be further and further south.”

Originally set up to develop PV capacity in southeastern Europe, Dublin-based BNRG has pivoted strongly towards the UK over the past few years.

BNRG has built and sold a number of ground-mount PV arrays in Britain, including the 4.3MW BAE Systems array in Somerset, and in January it obtained planning permission for the 18MW Sycamore Farm project in Kent, among the largest in the country.

While many in the industry see energy storage as the silver bullet for such localised grid constraints, Maguire views subsea interconnectors as another potential game changer for PV, at least in the British Isles.

“The big thing is not going to be energy storage, which we all hope is coming down the track sooner rather than later. It’s going to be the grid.

“Smart grids, micro-grids and offshore transmission are going to become a real focal point,” he said, speaking at a conference in London.

In addition to capacity bottlenecks, the UK grids problem is compounded by a misguided application process for PV developers, Maguire says.

At the moment, developers are able to submit Point of Connection applications to local distribution network operators (DNOs) free of charge – a mistake in Maguire’s opinion. The lack of cost encourages some developers to play a “pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey” game.

“They literally submit a hundred applications, and if they get one or two, they think, ‘Great, we’ve struck.’”

Meanwhile, the flood of applications completely overwhelms what is often a tiny staff in place at the DNOs to process them.

“As a developer, I’d like to be charged a fee by the DNOs for submitting an application," Maguire says, adding that such a system would eliminate “maybe 80%” of the PV applications pouring into the system.