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By Olly Rose
Sep 7, 2021

Ecotricity is different. Instead of paying dividends to shareholders, we invest our customers’ bill money into building new sources of green energy.

We’re always conscious of this fact, that it’s our customers who make all this possible. We have a responsibility to choose projects that will make the biggest impact in creating a green Britain.

This is a particularly exciting time for innovation in green technology – we have new solar parks, green gasmills and battery projects all underway. We spoke to Steve Ellis, Ecotricity’s Head of Generation, to find out more about them and how they’ll help in our mission to end fossil fuels for good.

Steve, can you tell us about the new solar parks we’re building?

We’re about to build two large solar parks next door to two of our wind parks – we like to call them hybrid parks, because the wind and solar both use the same connection to the national grid. It’s a really efficient way of doing things.

The first is Dalby solar park in Leicestershire. The Dalby wind park is a 9-turbine site (7.2 megawatts) which we built around seven years ago – we’re going to build a solar park with around 12 megawatts installed capacity next door to it. That capacity is enough to power about 3,600 kettles.

The second is Bulkworthy in Devon, where we’re building a solar park with around 7.8 megawatts installed capacity – enough to power over 2,300 kettles. The Galsworthy wind park next door has 4 turbines that have been in the ground for 7 years.

What type of solar technology are we putting in place?

When we looked at these sites a couple of years ago, we’d expect to get around 400 watts from a fairly standard 1.1 metre by 2.1 metre solar panel. The technology has moved on and now, we’re going to use similarly sized panels which will generate 535 watts. That’s a big improvement in generation capacity – around 30%.

Technology keeps moving on and capacities will continue to improve but there comes a time when you have to just go for it, otherwise you’d always be waiting for the new panels just around the corner and the park would never be built.

The other thing we’re doing on both these projects is putting in bifacial panels. Effectively, there’s a solar panel on both sides, so you get a little bit of extra power generated from the light bouncing off the ground and on to the underside. (Read Steve’s guide to bifacial panels here).

We’ve also been looking at tracking panels, which tilt to follow the sun through the day. Trackers need a bit more space because when they’re moving you need to avoid them shading each other. Our modelling shows that it’s better to have fixed panels in the two new sites, but we’ll look at trackers on other sites where we might have a little more elbow room.

What are the plans for creating green gas from grass?

This is a really exciting project. It’ll be the first gas mill using grass as a feedstock to put green gas into the country’s gas network.

The gas mill will be just south of Reading and the farmer whose land it’s on will also be growing the grass to feed the mill. It’s going to be a 5 megawatt plant, supplying about 5,000 homes with gas – for that, we’ll need around 30,000 tonnes of grass each year.

Our green gas will be made from grass material using anaerobic digestion. No manure or other animal products, of course.

The grass is cut four times a year and put into a silage plant, which is a big chamber where it sits for a couple of months to break down. We then put it into the digester and it gives off a methane rich gas, which we clean up a little bit, then put into the domestic gas network.

The advantage of grass is that it’s a very clean, consistent feedstock and you can use the waste as fertiliser to grow more grass!

What’s happening with the new battery project?

Batteries are a hot topic throughout the world. We’ve got a project at Berkeley, Gloucestershire, which should be up and running by the end of summer 2021.

We’re going to build a 1 megawatt lithium-ion battery, basically a shipping container with lots of smaller batteries connected together. We’re starting with 1 megawatt because we need to prove the concept, to demonstrate that the battery will perform properly for us. Once we’ve done this, we can move forward with our 10 megawatt and 50 megawatt battery plans.

The difference in size is quite significant, a standard shipping container can house a 1-3 megawatt battery whilst our 50 megawatt battery will require about the space of a quarter of a football pitch.

Batteries have all sorts of uses. For instance, they could prevent having to turn off wind generation at times of low demand, because you can store the energy instead and use it when energy demand in the country is higher.

They also have great potential to support the National Grid. The grid needs support when they see a sharp rise in energy demand. They can call upon stored energy, sometimes in less than a second. At other times there is the need to store energy similarly on demand because there’s a sudden drop in usage. Batteries can also react at a speed that no rotating mechanical machine can match – making them a super efficient answer to these peaks and troughs in demand.

Building new sources of green energy is the only form of action that makes a genuine difference in the fight against the climate crisis – we’re as committed to it today as we were in 1995, when we became the world’s first green energy company.

Not with us yet? Switch to Ecotricity and we’ll use your bill money to invest in new sources of renewable energy and build a greener Britain.

Switch today

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