Nearly two thirds of the electricity used by Manchester University will next year be supplied by a giant solar PV farm, now under construction in south Essex.

As Britain’s greenest university, Manchester is top-ranked in the UK and third in the world for its benchmarks achieved against the independent 2024 QS World University Sustainability Rankings.   All its degree programmes are certified against the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

“She’s electric. Can I be electric, too?”

Now all its buildings and institutes – including part of the world-ranking Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, the Alliance Business School, the John Rylands Library and the Schuster physics labs where the Nobel-prize winning material graphene was developed by UK-citizens Professors Andre Geim & Kostya Novoselov in 2004 – will from autumn 2025 be powered by clean electricity made from Essex’s light.

Famously rainy Manchester’s biggest university has signed a deal with PV park developers Environmena, to buy four-fifths of the 58GWh output of the developers’ approved solar farm at Medebridge, close to South Ockendon and the Thames.

Expected to generate first late next year, the Medebridge project’s 104,000 solar panels will cover 175 acres of low-grade agricultural land – around 70 football pitches’ worth – next to a landfill site. At just over 46GWh every year, the Essex farm’s low carbon current will meet 65 per cent of the University’s power needs.

Enviromena says Medebridge will deliver greater biodiversity to Essex’s estuary edgelands. Preserved native grasses and wildflower meadows will surround the panels’ racks, encouraging nesting sites & rearing of wildlife, including bugs at the bottom of food chains.

“All I need is the air that I breathe”

Off-taking most of the farm’s clean power for a committed decade will speed Manchester University on its journey to intended carbon neutrality by 2038.  In 2022 the uni voted to terminate its investments in coal, oil and gas, and to reduce the carbon intensity of its other endowments by 37%.

Professor of climate and energy policy Carly McLachlan, the university’s academic lead for carbon, observed: “The important thing for us in developing this relationship (with Enviromena) was that our commitment would add new renewable energy capacity to the UK electricity system. Through our long-term purchasing commitment, we have played a key role in bringing this development forward – maximising the positive impact of our purchasing power.”

Baggy, not boggy. Still “mad for it…”

Finance manager Lee Barlow, the university’s lead on the Essex-sourced deal, added: “After nearly three years of rigorous procurement negotiations, we are proud to announce this landmark agreement, which (delivers) price certainty and supply stability.

“Securing this 10-year corporate PPA despite such adversity is a huge accomplishment and holds special significance as we celebrate the University’s bicentennial year.”

Enviromena’s chief commercial officer Lee Adams responded: “This significant partnership with the University of Manchester demonstrates the shared commitment of an influential, large-scale organisation, which, at the time it celebrates its 200-year anniversary, is taking steps towards reducing its carbon footprint through the technologies of tomorrow”

Founded in Britain by Sami Khoreibi in 2007, Enviromena is privately owned by investors Arjun Infrastructure Partners.

The developer currently manages over 300MW of renewables projects, including in the UAE, Egypt & Jordan. In the UK and Italy alone it is bringing forward elements in a 3GW-plus pipeline of green energy projects.

Straight outta Purfleet, twisting my melons

For investors Arjun Infrastructure, head of ESG Rhyadd Keaney-Watkins commented: “For Arjun and our investors, this deal between Manchester University and Enviromena is an exciting example of the positive real-world outcomes which infrastructure can deliver.

“With a fivefold increase in the UK’s solar generation capacity needed by 2035, and with more and more institutions following Manchester University’s leadership in decarbonising operations, there is an important role for developers such as Enviromena to deliver the ‘green electrons’ needed as part of net zero and the energy transition.”

Interest declared: the author was educated in south Essex and in Manchester


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