The Southwick Estate Solar Farm near Fareham, Hampshire, has been connected to the grid and is now generating enough renewable electricity to supply the equivalent of approximately 14,500 average homes.
The 48 MW project is currently the largest solar farm operating in the UK.
Nicola Waters, Chief Operating Officer, Primrose Solar, said: “We’re incredibly excited to have completed such a large and complex project which will make a major contribution to the UK’s renewable energy targets. With most of the work happening over the winter, conditions have been challenging, to say the least, and very, very muddy. But it won’t take long for the grass and wild flowers to get established around the panels so nature can take its course.”
The site is surrounded by woodland, with numerous hedgerows and a public footpath crossing it, so the most challenging aspect of the build was managing the construction work to ensure that there was minimal disruption to hedgerows and wildlife.
Southwick Solar Park is also notable for setting a new environmental standard for ground mounted solar. Primrose Solar worked closely with Solarcentury, the solar company responsible for the construction, to ensure that environmental considerations were incorporated throughout the planning, construction and operational lifetime of the solar farm.
Initiatives during construction included: the use of solar-powered and biodiesel generators; recycling over the whole site including food and canteen waste; installation of composting permanent toilet facilities; car sharing scheme; hot and cold food facilities on site to prevent lunchtime vehicle traffic offsite; and the installation of CCTV running on hydrogen fuel cells.
The solar farm will also operate to the highest ecological standards during its 25-year lifetime. Primrose is working with Wychwood Biodiversity, co-authors of the BRE National Solar Centre guidelines on biodiversity in solar farms, to create a habitat management plan for the site, which is Grade 4 agricultural land considered unsuitable for growing crops.
Wildflowers will be sown using a native seed mix to help reverse declining pollinator species such as bees and butterflies whose habitats have been decimated by intensive farming practices in recent decades. Hedgerows, trees and ponds are also being enhanced as part of the habitat management plan for the site. Beehives and bat boxes will be installed in April; in autumn and winter, sheep will be grazed among the panels, so the land will be used for food production as well as for producing clean solar electricity.
Mark Thistlethwayte, Southwick Estate, said: “The Southwick Estate is pleased to be home to the UK’s largest and greenest solar farm, and we’re looking forward to working with Primrose Solar as responsible stewards of the land for the 25-year lifetime of the project.”
Giles Clark, Chief Executive Officer, Primrose Solar, said: “We’re delighted to have completed the Southwick Solar Farm on schedule and I’d like to thank Solarcentury, SSE and DNO Consulting for their professionalism and for their commitment to getting the job done. I’m also very proud of my team who have done great work over the last year on this and other projects.”