Swindon's solar-powered recycling centre saves council cash

Source: PSE Feb/March 2019

Steve Cains, head of power solutions at Public Power Solutions, the wholly-owned subsidiary of Swindon Borough Council, describes the benefits of its latest innovative use of solar energy: to power a recycling plant.

Local authorities have never been under greater pressure: to deliver high levels of services while budgets are being cut, to deal with an ever-increasing household waste problem, and to reduce carbon emissions and promote sustainability.

Switched on shortly before Christmas, our latest solar project for Swindon Borough Council (SBC) – Barnfield Solar Farm – tackles all of these issues at the same time.

It’s built on a former landfill site, making great use of a piece of previously unproductive land; and it’s using solar energy generated locally to power Swindon’s recycling centre plant next door, preventing more waste going to landfill, while making substantial savings on council energy bills.

The recycling centre also hosts the UK’s first Solid Recovered Fuel (SRF) plant for municipal waste, which was completed in 2014. The plant processes 70,000 tonnes of waste a year from Swindon households and local companies, converting it to a renewable fuel and diverting 97% of Swindon’s domestic rubbish from landfill.

The solar farm houses 9,240 panels connected by a ‘private-wire’ to the SRF plant, with a total generation capacity of 2.5 MW (equivalent to the power used by around 1,500 homes). SBC has invested directly in the project and agreed a long-term power purchase arrangement with PPS, which means the solar farm can operate profitably without a large subsidy. Overall, it’s expected to reduce the plant’s energy costs by £185,000 a year.

Cllr Maureen Penny, Swindon Borough Council’s cabinet member for highways and the environment, describes the benefits of the scheme: “Using renewable energy to reduce our carbon footprint is a top priority for us,” she said. “PPS has been particularly successful in recent years in delivering solar schemes across the borough and this latest project is no exception, with the energy being used to power our SRF plant, which does such an excellent job in preventing our waste from going to landfill. It will also save a significant amount of money at a time when we have to deliver large savings from our budget.”

Barnfield is a fantastic example of the circular economy in action: using a source of renewable energy generated on-site to power a renewable fuel plant, reducing its reliance on fossil fuels while helping to cut costs. It’s taking SBC another step closer to achieving its ambition to generate enough renewable power for every home in the borough.

PPS is continuing to lead the way with innovative energy solutions working with local authorities and public sector bodies throughout the UK. With the removal of government incentives for solar, we expect to work on many more private-wire developments like this which deliver substantial cost savings to the end users.

Other projects due to come to fruition in 2019 include one of the UK’s largest battery storage projects and electric vehicle charging infrastructure, which all work well alongside solar, making them more cost effective. Local authorities not only have substantial assets but, importantly, can take a long-term view – both key ingredients for the transition to subsidy-free renewable energy projects. The ability to strategically plan new developments alongside a low cost of capital creates a springboard for new public-private partnerships which can drive more projects like this forward.


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