They say the past is a different country; that’s how it feels when we look back on the origins of Solar 21. In 2010 when the company was founded, the Paris agreement was five years from being hatched and renewable energy was still prohibitively expensive to produce, yet forward thinking governments in Europe were introducing incentives for the production of power from renewable sources in order to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels.
In 2008, just after the global financial crash, the Bradley brothers, Michael and Andrew, became interested in renewable energy as an investment proposition. Having both had successful careers in financial services, they knew their clients were looking for opportunities as far away from the stock markets and property as they could get. Renewable energy seemed like the perfect vehicle, yet at the time it was nigh on impossible for an individual to invest directly in renewable energy. The Bradley brothers wanted to change that.
After two years of researching green energy technologies, Solar 21 acquired several commercial-size operational solar energy plants in Italy, where the Italian government was guaranteeing to pay a feed-in tariff for every unit of electricity produced. This tariff would be paid for 20 years. Equipped with the detailed financial model they needed to be able to offer a viable opportunity to their investors, the Bradleys launched Solar 21.
Ten years on, those solar farms are still producing electricity, and the company has diversified into biomass, thermal heat energy and moved its focus from Italy to England’s Humber region, the renewables capital of the UK.
Just outside the city of Hull, Solar 21 has developed the Tansterne Biomass plant from a green field site. The announcement in 2017 that Tansterne had been named Best Project/Installation at the prestigious Humber Renewables Awards was a massive boost to the team.
Tansterne, a 22MWplant powered by waste wood sourced from the local area, was commissioned in February 2018. It qualifies for ROCs (Renewable Obligation Certificates). The Renewables Obligation was introduced in England in 2002 to encourage the deployment of large-scale renewable electricity in the UK. ROCs are the green certificates issued to electricity generators for every MWh (megawatt hour) of renewable electricity they generate. Electricity suppliers buy ROCs from the generator to prove the energy they are supplying is green.
The development of Tansterne was a major achievement and marked a step change in the ambitions of Solar 21. Expanding the team has been a key focus for Solar 21 over the last ten years with the aim of tapping into in-house expertise in the areas that are critical to the development of large power plant infrastructure, such as financial modelling, pre-construction feasibility, project planning and the permitting process as well technical engineering, logistics and the financial management of large-scale construction projects.
“When we look back to the two-man operation Solar 21 was ten years ago, we are very proud to have built a dedicated team of renewable energy professionals spread across Italy,the UK and Ireland.” Michael Bradley, Solar 21 co-founder and CEO.
That brings us to the present, 2020. In January, we commissioned Biogas 21 Project 1 (PlaxtonBridge), a 2.7MWe (Megawatt equivalent) plant at Woodmansey, not far from Tansterne. Construction of a second biogas plant – a 2.7MWe plant – is underway at Melton, also in East Yorkshire. Both biogas plants will qualify for the non-domestic Renewable Heat Incentive, which is an index-linked payment for every unit of thermal power produced, guaranteed for the next 20 years.
The company is also developing a portfolio of energy from waste plants across the UK. Waste is a very valuable commodity and is in plentiful supply. With a commitment to half the number of landfill sites by 2030 and prevent avoidable waste going to landfill by 2050, the UK is under pressure to come up with a means of dealing with 18 million tonnes of waste a year going into landfill. Energy from waste as both a waste processing technology and an energy production methodology would seem to be the antidote to what could be a waste crisis for the UK.
The boiler technology for energy from waste is not dramatically different to that used in biomass processing, and so it made sense for Solar 21 to build on its experience and partner with the best in the business to develop energy from waste plants. Fichtner Consulting Engineers Ltd has worked on more than 51 energy from waste and biomass plants with a combined generation capacity of 1.6GW. It employs over 1,500 staff in more than 50 offices around the world, delivering services in over 110 countries.
EFW 21 Project 1 is a 26MW energy from waste plant co-located with Biogas Project 2 at Melton. It pleases us very much that the site will demonstrate the circular economy in action; our feedstock partner for Biogas Project 2 is the largest waste processor in East Yorkshire. Our partner sorts the waste on site and will also send any organic waste, such as soiled food packaging, to Biogas Project 2. The waste that is left over when recyclable materials have been removed will be sent to EFW Project 1, also on the site. Waste wood will be recovered and sent to the nearby Tansterne Biomass plant. In this way, material which is thought to have come to the end of its useful life – the rubbish we throw away – creates valuable heat and power, some of which will be used in the locality.
As Solar 21 celebrates its 10th birthday, it has projects in its development pipeline in excess of £2.4bn.
On this momentous occasion, we would like to say a particular word of thanks to our fantastic team. It is amazing to see how much we’ve been able to accomplish together over the last decade! Together, we’ll achieve so much more.
"We are the first generation to feel the effect of climate change and the last generation that can do something about it." US President Barack Obama, September 2014.