Green Cities Fit for Life

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Floating Solar Farm to be launched in Manchester, UK

A solar farm with a difference is set to be launched in Manchester, UK in December 2015. Instead of being constructed in a field or on a roof, the solar panels will be placed on water – a reservoir to be exact. This project will be the largest of its kind in Europe and second largest in the world, after Japan.

An artist’s impression of the floating solar farm at Godley Reserve, Manchester. Image courtesy of corporate.unitedutilities.com

An artist’s impression of the floating solar farm at Godley Reserve, Manchester. Image courtesy of corporate.unitedutilities.com

The Godley Reservoir in the Hyde area of Greater Manchester is the setting for the new solar power farm. It will be composed of 12,000 panels, cover an area of 45,500 m2 and generate 2.7GWh of energy per year, which will power a local water treatment plant. The cost of the development is budgeted at £3.5 million (almost €5 million). United Utilities is behind the project, a water and wastewater treatment company serving the North West of England. The solar farm is being constructed within a period of weeks so that the company can avail of a generous UK Government grant, which is due to be cut drastically in 2016. Such cuts would likely dissuade the company from undertaking similar projects elsewhere, as indicated by Director of Energy Strategy for United Utilities, Neil Gillespie.

In constructing the solar energy farm, United Utilities hopes to generate more sustainable energy for its operations as part of its carbon reduction strategy, which includes the aim to generate 33% of its own energy by 2020. According to Chris Stubbs, Head of Renewable Energy at United Utilities: “While floating solar has been deployed elsewhere around the world, most notably in Japan, it is a new technology to the UK. Installations such as the Godley solar scheme will help us to keep energy costs and water customers’ bills low.”

The first floating solar farm in the UK on Mark Bennett’s farm in Berkshire, UK. Image courtesy of http://www.floatingsolarpanels.co.uk/

The first floating solar farm in the UK on Mark Bennett’s farm in Berkshire, UK. Image courtesy of http://www.floatingsolarpanels.co.uk/

The first floating solar farm in the UK was introduced in 2014 by entrepreneur Mark Bennett. He established the company Floating Solar Panels and partnered with French business Ciel et Terre, which had developed specialised solar panels to float on water called Hydrelio© in 2006. Bennett installed 800 Hydrelio© solar panels on his own farm in Berkshire, England. They generate 200Kw of power, which is used for a huge on-site irrigation system.

These floating solar panels were initially developed as an alternative to placing solar installations on land. Many countries have disused water bodies such as reservoirs, dams, irrigation canals and quarry lakes that are ideal locations for solar farms, instead of using up valuable farmland. Where applicable, the water from such bodies can still be used as it would not be affected by the solar panels. Wineries, dairy farms, fish farms, mining companies, wastewater treatment plants and irrigation districts are among those suitable for this alternative technology. According to Ciel et Terre, their panels have a 20+ year lifespan and they are continually trying to make the product more affordable and efficient.

As the threat of climate change grows, new developments in green technology are becoming more prevalent and are vital if we are serious about moving away from fossil fuels for good. Thus it is encouraging to see innovative schemes being undertaken by companies in the UK and beyond.