Nottingham City Council: Solar “absolutely still viable”, batteries next

Wayne Bexton: Solar revenues recycled to protect frontline council services

Solar PV is “absolutely still viable” despite subsidies starting to wind down, according to Wayne Bexton, head of energy projects at Nottingham City Council.

The Autumn Budget confirmed feed-in tariffs (FiTs) will close in 2019. But falling costs mean PV will still make sense for both local authorities and commercial businesses, Bexton believes. The council is backing-up that belief with a planned £3m investment in expanding its solar capacity over the next five years.

Bexton has spent the last two years delivering renewable energy and demand reduction initiatives for Nottingham’s Energy Projects Service, which operates as a commercial business unit within the local authority.

The Energy Projects Service also undertakes work for commercial businesses and the returns and savings it generates are “‘passported” into frontline services”, says Bexton. “So it’s a win-win.”

The unit delivers everything from EPCs and energy audits to large energy projects across a range of technologies – from LEDS, chillers and virtualised servers, to solar and district heating – both locally and nationally.

Sunny outlook

Bexton says the company has driven solar installation costs to under £1,000 per kilowatt peak. It can both fund installations and offer power purchase agreements (PPAs) for projects on buildings not owned by the council.

He believes those costs will fall further as market forces sharpen competition.

To that end, the Energy Projects Service has just launched a supplier framework that is available to every local authority in the UK.

It brings together approved suppliers and processes to reduce administration and drive down costs.

The framework “is split into easily accessible lots, covering everything from simply material supply to full design and implementation,” says Bexton.

“It means we can act as a kind of gateway to other local authorities, so if they want [Nottingham Energy Services] to do the work, we will. But if not, they can access the framework for competitive bids – and competition is seeing prices tumble.”

Battery storage

Compared to PV, battery storage presents a risk profile which requires additional due diligence – and the council is trialling battery storage units adjacent to its solar carports in order to understand how to best stack revenues to ensure return on investment.

“Battery storage is an area we are looking to move into,” says Bexton. “We have not yet committed to a large scale battery but are in talks with our distribution network operator, Western Power Distribution about how that might work and how risk might be shared.”

In the meantime, the council has modelled the 33kV network around the city to see where batteries, potentially collocated with other forms of generation, might be sited adjacent to substations.

Fuel cells and mine water

A fuel cell trial, if successful, could also see gas boilers replaced across the city. Looking further ahead, the council is also examining the potential to use mine water and heat pumps to provide lower carbon heat from old coal mines that once powered the industrial revolution.

See for further information, or email for details on how to access the solar framework.

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