Portsmouth city council

Portsmouth City Council has previously deployed solar on flat blocks under the first framework and will look to grow this deployment to add educational, community and commercial properties. Image: Portsmouth City Council.

Portsmouth City Council (PCC) is preparing to begin a substantial solar roll-out scheme worth up to £10 million which will see PV panels installed on council owned buildings across the city over the next four years.

The council has recently procured a new multiple framework agreement for the design, supply and installation of PV panels and associated works to residential, educational, community and commercial properties.

The council intends to build on a previous initiative which once completed will have resulted in 2MW of solar PV being deployed in Portsmouth over the last two years. With work having taken place across over 200 sites, ranging in size from 4kW to 175kW, these include several high energy using sheltered blocks, large multi-use buildings, libraries, and large and small blocks of residential flats.

According to Andrew Waggott, project analyst at PCC, the council hopes to deploy over 2MW each year under the new framework to build on the success of its current scheme.

“When we first set it up we just didn't expect to do the amount of PV that we've done. We're expecting to do the same amount again and a bit – this financial year we'll do more than 2MW if we spend out,” he said.

The initial project will be sheltered accommodation complex St John’s Court, which will have two 25kWp systems fitted to its roof. Valued at £50,000, the project will will be used to identify which of the selected suppliers are most likely to engage with the scheme over the long term. Those that fail to do so will be relegated to a second tier while others will be given priority for future projects.

“The reason we set up this two tier framework is because there are ten people on the original framework and at the moment we get four returns for tenders and those four companies share the work,” Waggott explained.

“There are companies that haven't even returned a tender in the last two years; they've gone through all this rigmarole and then they're blocking a space on the framework potentially for another company. So with the two tier framework we can discriminate against those people who aren't going to return tenders and we can drop them into the second tier.”

Work at St John’s Court was originally intended to begin in August but the project has been pushed back by a month. It will be the first of the rooftop installations to be carried out under the scheme, which will include projects ranging from £4,000 in value up to a maximum of £250,000 per project.

However, larger installs are likely to be hampered by ongoing work being carried out in the north of the city by Scottish and Southern Energy Power Distribution (SSEPD), which is reportedly refusing larger projects while improvements are made.

Waggott said: “Grid capacity hadn't been a big issue in Portsmouth until the start of this year and it's still not in the south. They're doing some reinforcement works up in the north of the city so pretty much everything over 50kW in the north of the city they are [stopping]. We've had to go back and re-evaluate those.”

A spokesperson for SSEPD confirmed to Solar Power Portal: “We are currently carrying out a £6m upgrade to the 33kV and 132kV networks in the Portsmouth area. This will improve the service we provide our existing customers and benefit future connections made to the network in this area.”

He added that the work is scheduled for completion by the end of summer 2017, which means most installs under the PCC scheme will be limited to smaller sites in the foreseeable future, during which time PCC will focus on its own community properties, including those occupied by third parties.

These will be based around power purchase agreements (PPAs), which will see the power generated by the panels sold by PCC to the occupants of its buildings. The decision to build the business case in this way has been made following the recent subsidy cuts to UK solar, which has left the council seeking alternative funding methods.

Waggott said: “If the feed-in tariff had stayed at 12p then we would have gone and looked at social housing as the next port of call. It's killed that – we just can't make the return on 4p where we're not the bill-payer.

“It does lessen the return and we're having to be a bit smarter about how we do these projects. We still get the FiT on them but the PPA helps massively. Without a PPA we couldn't get close to making a return on these.”

Despite these challenges, Waggott is confident the entire £10 million allocated to the tender will be spent although this is not guaranteed and may be restricted if the council is unable to deploy at a fast enough rate.

“It’s a little early to say and you are restricted a little bit because there is a finite number of PCC owned buildings. I'd hope we'd keep that install level at this year and just take it forward every year. I'd actually hope to fulfill that £10 million over four years, although obviously we'd expect the price of the materials to fall in that time so I don't know if we'll be able to keep up that install rate.”

This article has been amended since its original publication.