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.


April 17, 2021 at 05:33AM