Construction of Europe’s largest solar farm on a decommissioned landfill site is now underway in Essex, with the facility already generating renewable energy. Owned by Veolia, a waste management company, the Ockendon solar farm is the third-largest in the UK, featuring over 100,000 solar modules spread across 70 hectares (173 acres) of land. Veolia anticipates that this solar array will produce sufficient clean electricity to power approximately 15,000 homes. This project aims to breathe new life into what was once a landfill site, offering a valuable alternative to its redevelopment.
Donald Macphail, Veolia’s Chief Operating Officer for their treatment division, emphasised that this initiative would have minimal impact on the ground, allowing the restored land to continue supporting local wildlife alongside the solar technology.
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Philippe Queruau, Electrification Services Manager at Veolia UK, noted the potential for numerous closed landfill sites across the UK to host similar solar arrays; even active landfill sites could become future candidates for solar installations. Queruau stressed the importance of expanding solar energy in the UK, especially considering the government’s goal to increase solar power capacity from 14 gigawatts to 70 gigawatts by 2035.
Frank Gordon, Director of Policy at the Association for Renewable Energy and Clean Technology, emphasised the urgency of ramping up solar energy production in the UK to meet climate goals, especially in light of recent extreme weather events.
Apart from landfill sites, Veolia is exploring other innovative solar solutions, including rooftop installations on urban structures like hospitals and car parks. They are also considering floating solar installations on water reservoirs and solar modules mounted on refuse trucks to power bin lifts and air conditioning.
A key challenge for the UK’s solar ambitions is the high demand for grid connections, resulting in a backlog of applications with waiting times of up to 15 years. However, the Ockendon solar farm has managed to secure a grid connection without a lengthy delay and will share some grid infrastructure with another nearby large solar farm.