Science Museum and Swindon Council look to develop UK’s largest solar farm

  • Wroughton  

    The old airfield at Wroughton has been used by the Science Museum since the 1970s. The museum hopes that the proposed solar development is set to showcase British engineering as well as demonstrate the suitability of solar technology in the UK. Image credit: geograph.co.uk

  • Cotswold sheep  

    Traditional Cotswold sheep could be set to graze the 200-acre solar park. Image credit: JamesDeMers/Pixabay

The Science Museum is plotting to install the UK’s largest solar farm at its big-object store in Wroughton, Wiltshire.

If approved, the proposed project would supersede the current largest solar park in the UK: Lark Energy’s proposed 32MW development at Wymeswold Airfield, Leicestershire

Working in conjunction with Swindon Commercial Services, a wholly owned company of Swindon Borough Council, the museum is proposing to install a 40MW solar farm across the 80-hectare Wroughton facility.       

The world famous Science Museum in London can only display a small fraction of its collection at any one time and so uses the disused airfield in Wroughton to store the rest. The proposed plans will see 160,000 PV modules installed across the airfield’s land.

The Science Museum predicts that the large-scale solar installation will allow the group to become effectively carbon neutral. Although the Wroughton campus consumes minimal electricity, the Museum’s historic Kensington base is an extremely heavy consumer of electricity. Matt Moore, Sustainability Manager for the Science Museum, added that the solar project fits well with the museum’s continued ambition to showcase British engineering.

Speaking to Solar Power Portal, James Owen, Swindon Commercial Services’ Project Manger said the disused airfield at Wroughton was a perfect site for development because of the combination of light industrial and low-grade agricultural land. The first public consultation over the planned site will be on January 26. Owen is hoping to actively engage with the local community over the proposals. He said: “There’s no point in it being one way; I want people to support the park. The land will stay in agricultural use: currently it is used for grazing sheep and I want to keep it that way.”

In fact, Owen wants to go one step further and graze local rare breed Cotswolds sheep on the land, a sight long lost to the locals. Although not good for meat, Cotswolds sheep are famed for their wool and Owen harbours hope that the wool produced from the sheep might be upcycled as insulation for homes.  

As for the wider large-scale solar market, after three major rushes in the utility-scale solar market, Owen believes that some projects may have compromised on quality in order to connect to the grid in time to meet tight deadlines. However, Owen is confident that the boom and bust nature of the industry is a thing of the past, he said: “With the new RO rates up till 2017 you will be left with a sustainable return on investment which will get rid of dubious suit-wearers from the City that don’t know anything and want too much return – leaving the rest of us to develop a sustainable, sensible part of the UK energy mix.”

Owen concluded: “I think the industry needs sensible investors looking for sensible returns on a par, or better than, a government bond.”

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