Bentley Motor's factory in Crewe is now home to the UK’s largest rooftop solar PV array following the completion of a 5MW installation by Lightsource Renewable Energy.

Lightsource expects the 20,000-module strong array to provide up to 40% of Bentley’s energy requirements during peak generation times. Not only will the installation slash the factory’s utility costs, it will also negate the emission of 2,500 tonnes of CO2 every year.

Speaking to Solar Power Portal, Nick Boyle, chief executive of Lightsource said: “The installation on Bentley Motor’s factory demonstrates the tremendous potential the UK’s rooftops have for harnessing the power of the sun.

“The advantage from Bentley’s perspective is that what we’ve done is absolutely no cost to them. What they get for no effort is electricity at a price that is firstly discounted from their current cost and secondly, probably more importantly, will only increase by RPI year-on-year for the next 25 years.

“Not only are we undercutting what they pay at the moment but we are also future-proofing, giving them price certainty for the element of electricity that we are generating. For a company with such significant electricity requirements, for them to secure up to 40% at a fixed price is massively valuable to them. I think in a funny way that price security is every bit as important as the price reduction.”   

The completion of the UK’s largest rooftop solar array stands out as a major anomaly for a market that has continued to struggle since a challenging feed-in tariff rate was introduced when the tri-monthly degression mechanism was implemented.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) recently acknowledged the faltering market and introduced a new rooftop RO rate in the hope of rekindling demand. Commenting on the state of the commercial rooftop market in the UK, Boyle said: “I think the problem you have with rooftops is that the planets need to align: you need to have a significant electricity user and you need to have a roof that is suitable.”

Michael Straughan, Bentley’s member of the board for manufacturing, added: “Unlikely as it may seem our 1940s plant in Crewe is ideally situated to generate solar power as the ‘saw tooth’ factory roofs are south facing at an angle of 20 degrees.”

However, Boyle was keen to stress that there are other factors which significantly impact the viability of rootop projects, he said: “The other thing, the most fundamental thing, is that because of the structure we have in the UK at the moment, the PPA market is somewhat constricted because the banks insist that if you want the PPA to be banked the counter party must be sufficiently financially secure to be able to justify them lending money and securitising money on the back of that PPA.

“There’s nothing in place from the government that makes it any easier and therefore it is simply a commercial decision for the banks to say ‘will I lend or will I not lend on the strength of this PPA?’”

Bentley Motor's already prides itself on the sustainability of the Crewe site after it was one of the first automotive plants in the UK to secure ISO 50001 and the completion of the array marks another step forward. Straughan concluded: “We take the sustainability of our products and factory extremely seriously and we are always looking for ways to reduce emissions and improve energy efficiency. The panels will reduce our energy costs and help ensure that our manufacturing operations in Crewe are efficient, sustainable and globally competitive.”

-Lightsource's Nick Boyle will be discussing development strategies and funding at the Large Scale Solar UK Conference on 24-25 April organised by Solar Power Portal's publisher Solar Media. 'Building a sustainable large-scale solar industry in the UK after April 2013', to be held in Truro, Cornwall, will explore the renaissance of the large-scale solar industry in the UK and the commercial and investment opportunities it offers. Further information is available here.