The solar farm was initially given a grid connection date of 2037. Image: Wokingham Borough Council.
The solar farm was initially given a grid connection date of 2037. Image: Wokingham Borough Council.

Wokingham Borough Council’s Barkham solar farm has been granted a grid connection “more than a decade earlier”.

The 29MW solar farm, being developed in conjunction with main contractor Equans, was initially given a grid connection date of 2037. Instead, via an agreement with Scottish and Southern Electric Networks (SSEN), the revised grid connection is set for summer 2026.

In a statement, the Council confirmed that the revised connection date was the result of “months of lobbying for reform in the energy sector” alongside discussions with National Grid and SSEN on why the scheme should be prioritised.

It is worth noting that the project originally had a connection date of 2026 before it was extended to 2037.

The next steps for the project include an update on the solar farm’s plan and business case, which is set to be provided at a Climate Emergency Overview and Scrutiny meeting on 29 February.

Initial works over the coming months will include a series of 62 archaeological trenches dug to the south of the site, close to an existing greenway next to California Country Park. These works mark the location of the new woodlands, which will be planted later in the year.

Main work to install the solar panels will begin in 2025 and will be carefully coordinated with other Council projects in the area.

Councillor Stephen Conway, leader of Wokingham Borough Council, said: “This is fantastic news and reflects the work we’ve done to build strong relationships with SSEN and to demonstrate why schemes like this are so important locally.

“Not just in how they represent a big part of our climate emergency action plan and reducing carbon emissions locally, but in how they generate income which we can invest back into providing services for our residents.”

A step in the right direction in reducing grid connection times

Although it is very significant that the solar project has a capacity of 29MW, and will be the first that the Council owns, perhaps the most striking development is the drastic shift in grid connection.

The topic of grid connections has been explored extensively both on Solar Power Portal and our sister publication Current± where we ran a mini-series and has proved to be one of the biggest obstacles to Britain’s net zero prospects.

Last year, we sat down with Peter Kavanagh, CEO and founder of Harmony Energy, to discuss grid connections, where he emphasised that “grid connections before 2030 are a struggle” in the current climate.

This stark warning reiterated what many across the industry were stating. With Britain’s grid shifting away from several coal-fired plants providing the majority of the country’s energy mix, the transition to a larger number of smaller generation sites is proving troublesome for the nation’s net zero goals.

Several initiatives have been implemented to tackle the ongoing issue. Perhaps the most prominent is the transition to National Grid ESO’s “first ready, first connected” approach to grid connections.

It is worth noting that National Grid also revealed late last year that it would accelerate the connection of up to 10GW of battery energy storage projects across England and Wales, with these being offered dates to plug in, on average, four years earlier than their current agreement.

With the Barham solar farm’s grid connection date having been cut by up to a decade, this is clearly an indication that the issue is on the path to recovery.