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Army’s New Solar Farm

April 17, 2021

By Paul Homewood

You may recall this story from a couple of weeks ago:



The British Army is to go green with its first ever training base powered by the sun.

The Army on Wednesday announced that the Ministry of Defence’s first photovoltaic solar farm will be constructed at the Defence School of Transport (DST) in Normandy Barracks, Leconfield.

The solar array is the first of four pilot sites being delivered as part of the MoD’s Project Prometheus, which aims to increase renewable energy across the Defence Estate and is due to be completed this spring.

The 2.3 megawatt solar farm, which spans approximately four hectares, the equivalent of about five football pitches, will be made up of 4,248 Trina Vertex panels and power one third of DST’s electricity needs.

It is understood that this will provide enough energy to supply much of the site’s infrastructure including the single soldiers and families accommodation, the offices, classrooms and gyms.

The site, which is the first of four to test the scheme, will result in £1 million in efficiency savings and reduce emissions by 2,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, per year.

I sent an FOI to the MOD, and got back this response today:


So I have done a few sums:

  • At 11% loading, 2.3MW would produce 2200 MWh a year.
  • Saving on electricity of £250000 implies a price of 11.36p per KWh
  • Depreciation over 15 years = £113000 pa
  • Total annual operating costs therefore = £163000
  • Operational savings = £87000, or £1.3m over 15 years
  • Cost of generation = £74/MWh

I have not allowed for the cost of borrowing, which would amount to £51,000 a year. This may be offset by annual savings on electricity rising in line with inflation. However if interest is added, the cost of generation rises to £97/MWh.



So, what does all this tell us?

  • As a standalone project, the solar farm saves money for the Army, purely because it cuts out all of the middle man costs, such as transmission and distribution charges, green subsidies and supply company costs.
  • However, the Army still relies wholly on the National Grid to supply power, both to top up and to replace when there is no sunshine.
  • It would not be practical for the Army to rely on solar power for all of its power.
  • On a national basis, those middle man costs still exist, and have to be paid by somebody. The less the Army pays, the more everybody else has to.
  • Generating costs of £97/MWh, even with an ultra low interest rate of 3%, are clearly not competitive in the market.
  • It is therefore hardly surprising that very few solar farms are being built to supply the grid. The few that are rely on battery storage to tap into peak pricing.

Army Efficiency

As a footnote, I would point out that the Army responded to my FOI in about a week. You can almost guarantee that an FOI to any other government body, not least the Met Office, will take several weeks.

It says a lot about the much vaunted efficiency we hear about in the Army.

I am currently reading General Slim’s book about the Burma War, Defeat into Victory. (I would definitely recommend for anybody interested in the war, by the way). What comes across as well as the actual fighting is the incredible difficulties overcome by Slim and his Fourteenth Army, in terms of building roads (often in the jungle), establishing supply chains, air supply, hospitals, malaria and a hundred and one other things.

All of this was achieved with the barest minimum of resources and under the most difficult conditions. Without it the Burma War would never have been won.

    1. john cheshire permalink
      April 17, 2021 11:39 am

      Is it possible that the people who are pushing these ridiculous projects, paid for with our money, are the same ones who are conducting solar radiation management programmes (though this is denied)?

    2. Jack Broughton permalink
      April 17, 2021 11:42 am

      So, the army are not wrong in saving by use of subsidised power. However, one other factor that could be included in the assessment is the value of the land taken up. The UK needs over 1.2 m affordable homes, a number that is increasing every year, the taxpayers subsidy and use of this, obviously spare, land could make the UK a better place if it were not for the dangerous CCA and its nutty policies.

    3. mwhite permalink
      April 17, 2021 12:28 pm

      You forgot to ask how much they expect to have to pay to decommission the site once the solar panels have past their use by date.

      • April 17, 2021 1:14 pm

        They’ll probably use it as target practice!

      • April 19, 2021 10:11 pm

        Yes you have to consider all costs in ££s and CO2 from cradle to grave
        BEFORE – mining, manufacturing, construction
        DURING – the opportunity cost of the land (which spans approximately four hectares, the equivalent of about five football pitches)
        Like in a normal farm, you could be using that land to make money
        .. and that land would be absorbing CO2
        AFTER – decommissioning costs, site cleanup etc.

    4. It doesn't add up... permalink
      April 17, 2021 1:10 pm

      Some more sums:

      Total power consumption is 6,600MWh per year, or an average of 0.75MW. I doubt that demand on a summer Sunday in the middle of the day is as high as 2.3MW. So I suspect that some of the peak output is being exported to the grid. Of course that means that at other times, more power will be bought in. So on part of the output the saving is the export tariff (probably around 5p/kWh) rather than the full purchase cost. The scheme is large enough that it will be metered.

      Perhaps we should include the cost of land for 5 football pitches? I suppose an agricultural rent would be about £5,000 a year for 10 acres.

      On the plus side it does come in somewhat cheaper than the average CFD funded project.

      Leconfield is part of the transport corps. No mention of chargers (either equine or electric for tanks)?

    5. tom0mason permalink
      April 17, 2021 1:19 pm

      So here is the challenge for the RAF and Royal Navy to better! 🙂

      • Gamecock permalink
        April 17, 2021 1:30 pm

        Solar panels for decks on HMS Prince of Wales.

        Wait . . . someone will like this idea.

        • Ben Vorlich permalink
          April 18, 2021 12:39 pm

          How about cover the flight deck (70 metres wide and 280 metres long = 2 hectares) with solar a solar array, fill the hangers with batteries. Sail her to where it’s sunny and charge the batteries. Bring her back to power the grid for a couple of seconds? Sail her off again.

          Probably a better use than currently as we can’t afford all the F35s planned and which still seem to be problematic.

    6. bobn permalink
      April 17, 2021 1:30 pm

      Yes, General Slims Burma exploits are amazing. He was easily the most competent British general of WW2. (Montgomery was a showman and overated – El Alamein was won by brute force and overwhelming firepower). Slim is a contender for best British general ever.

      I dont mind anyone using solar panels to defray ever accelerating electricity prices, but i do object to putting them on good farm and amenity land. The army has acres and acres of roof space. Salisbury Plain camps have acres of garages, workshops and barrack rooves. This is where the panels should go and can be self fitted by the REME as a further saving.

    7. Broadlands permalink
      April 17, 2021 1:36 pm

      “….and reduce emissions by 2,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, per year.”

      By 2050 that will add up to 60,000 tons. That is about 10-to-the minus 6 parts-per-million. Long way to go to reach NET-zero. Stated another way 2000 tons a year would take ~3.9 million years to lower the atmosphere by one ppm. There may be good reasons to use solar and/or wind energy but reducing CO2 emissions is not one of them.

      • BLACK PEARL permalink
        April 17, 2021 8:22 pm

        There’s 50 odd volcanoes going off right now that will no doubt cloud all the CO2 calculations 🙂

    8. Gamecock permalink
      April 17, 2021 1:43 pm

      ‘It is understood that this will provide enough energy to supply much of the site’s infrastructure including the single soldiers and families accommodation, the offices, classrooms and gyms.’

      Danielle seems unaware that the sun doesn’t shine at night.

      A solar installation at 53°N doesn’t sound very smart. But I’m not an expert.

      ‘The site, which is the first of four to test the scheme, will result in £1 million in efficiency savings and reduce emissions by 2,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, per year.’

      If the purpose is to save money, why this announcement? The announcement is POLITICAL. This action is POLITICAL.

    9. Coeur de Lion permalink
      April 17, 2021 2:55 pm

      According to Liddel Hart and FM Lord Alanbrook ( both of whom should know) the best WW 2 general was General of the Army Douglas MacArthur. Did you know that he was the most highly decorated for gallantry of American officers in WW1?

      • Gamecock permalink
        April 17, 2021 10:10 pm

        “Whom should know.”

        They speak only from their perspective. And neither had much – if any – involvement in the Pacific War. It’s true that MacArthur was excellent before WWII. But he did not excel in WWII itself.

        Let’s add some granularity.

        For division commanders, it’s hard to beat Patton, Rommel, or Meyer.

        For army commanders, I say Erich von Manstein.

        For theater commanders, I say Eisenhower or Zhukov.

        As far as overall accomplishment, it’s Zhukov by a wide margin.

        The principal problem for MacArthur was a matter of scale. He was involved in backwater skirmishes (as declared in the Arcadia Conference). The Battle of Guadalcanal, a major turning point in the Pacific War for the U.S., involved less than a hundred thousand troops combined for both sides. The Battle of Kursk involved millions.

        And MacArthur was in charge when the Japanese swept up the Philippines. Arguments can be made, and I can make some, that it wasn’t his fault. But the disaster was on his watch.

        Post WWII, MacArthur did an excellent job as administrator of Japan.

        In total, MacArthur was indeed a great man. But he was hardly the best WW 2 general. Not even close.

    10. Nancy & John Hultquist permalink
      April 17, 2021 3:45 pm

      Solar is a good choice in the right place.
      I’m thinking of Sunrise at Mt. Rainier – 6,400 ft. elevation and many miles from its prior fuel supply by truck. [See the building at 46.914494, -121.644074]

      Your Army is testing a concept. Other than cost, it likely won’t do much harm. The climate won’t notice. Gaia won’t cry.

      • Curious George permalink
        April 18, 2021 12:35 am

        Neither Google Maps, nor the Street View show any solar panels there.

      • Gamecock permalink
        April 18, 2021 11:32 am

        I’m not from around there. But doesn’t Sunrise have snow half the year?

        I was there late September, 1997, and they were closing the park for the winter.

        • Nancy & John Hultquist permalink
          April 18, 2021 5:30 pm

          I think other places in the Park are open much longer.

          Opening of the Sunrise area is weather dependent. Generally, the road is opened in late June or early July and closes mid-September or a bit later. In 2015 it was open on June 5th. Buildings are only open for the 3 months of high sun, and at 6,400 feet it is intense. Seasonal staffing if based on a late June schedule, so early openings lack some facilities.
          The park crew built a small building behind the main building; that is west of the parking area. They were working on this a couple of years ago when I was last there. My pointer is near that building.
          46.914494, -121.644074

    11. Eleventh Hour permalink
      April 17, 2021 4:09 pm

      In order to make solar more competitive with fossil fuels, you can either improve solar power efficiencies or drive the cost of fossil fuels through the roof. No doubt this will be discussed at “The Great Reset” in Davos.

    12. ellyssen permalink
      April 17, 2021 4:20 pm

      I would label it project Icarus rather than Prometheus. I think they are going to get burned by this.

    13. Bloke down the pub permalink
      April 17, 2021 7:23 pm

      The financial viability may be affected by the electricity supply contract that is in operation now. Presumably there’ll be standing charges and these will still have to be paid even if the solar pv managed to supply all of the electricty needed.

    14. bobn permalink
      April 17, 2021 9:45 pm

      Appropriate to remember some of the many solar power failures.
      US solar panel start-up Solyndra cost US taxpayers $570 million in loans under Obama/Biden.
      In 2011, Solyndra filed for bankruptcy, laid off its 1,100 employees and ended its operations. The loans were written off.
      Has any commercial solar power project survived without subsidies?

    15. April 18, 2021 2:56 pm

      Prediction: Like a lot of UK homeowners, they’ll quickly find it was a complete waste, and it will be phased out with minimum of fanfare.

    16. April 19, 2021 6:28 am

      Ahh, yes, the Burma road, along which was installed a pipeline to transport fuel, the lifeblood of the machines necessary for the war effort in fighting Japan.

      When windmills and solar power wouldn’t have been anywhere near sufficient.

    17. Matthew Clarke permalink
      April 19, 2021 8:49 am

      Solar power, wind power in fact any non fossil based or nuclear power , is not cost effective. Also the main players who support the proliferation of Green solutions. Are big banks and big business. Not because they care about the planet, but they are after( and are getting) huge subsidies from a petrified and misled Government.
      Result, overly expensive , inefficient , but “green” signalling policies, that don’t work, paid for by a public that daren’t criticize or question the science.
      Sound familiar…..?

    18. Spurwing Plover permalink
      April 23, 2021 4:00 pm

      Go Green Go Broke lose a few Million investing in Wind and Solar Energy all over the fake crisis called Global Warming/Climate Change

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