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‘Unprecedented’ UK scheme could put 22,000 Sonnen and Leclanché systems into community housing

UK solar homes. Image: Nottingham City Council.
Storage system manufacturers Sonnen and Leclanché are in early talks to help deliver an “unprecedented” scheme in England which will see their batteries rolled out as part of a potentially huge project.

Solar Media’s UK PV industry site Solar Power Portal reported yesterday that a local government authority in County Durham, north-east England, has committed to a large scale scheme which could see a package of solar panels, battery storage units and LED lighting delivered to up to 22,000 homes. Community meetings are underway to see which of the town’s 35,000 residents want to take up to offer, which will be carried out at no upfront cost to households.

UK developer, North Star Solar has been contracted to deliver the project for Stanley Town Council. North Star’s regular supplier Leclanché has supplied a series of solutions to North Star for testing as part of the selection process, which could see the Swiss firm taking part in one of its biggest residential schemes to date.

Jacques Boppe, vice-president of business development at Leclanché, told Solar Power Portal that the project could see his company’s systems deployed in around 6,000 to 10,000 homes.

Meanwhile, Sonnen’s UK and Ireland director Martin Allman said the potential size of the scheme – which is still to be determined based on feedback from surveys of the town’s residents – could “blow out of the water” previous schemes elsewhere. Allman said that if the scheme was as large as it could be, it would significantly boost Sonnen’s global deployment figures. The company just a couple of weeks ago having announced that engineering giant GE was investing in its future growth through a VC arm.

“The size of this scheme is fairly unprecedented really as far as residential energy storage schemes go. Sonnen is a market leader for residential energy storage and it’s installed about 11,000 systems globally and most of those are in Germany,” Allman said.

“This kind of scheme blows that out of the water in some respects in terms of the volumes we're talking about. So to put it in to context, having a large volume scheme like this is really exciting.”

US$198 million scheme claimed to be feasible

If all homes in the area are positive about the offer, North Star Solar estimates the project will cost around £140 million (US$198 million) to deliver – an average of £6,363 per home. One of the company's directors told Solar Power Portal that he was unable to reveal the source of the finance being used for the project. However, he added that he was completely confident that funding could be secured.

“The background of Stuart Dodd [also managing director] and myself is finance. Stuart used to be at Goldmans (Goldman Sachs) for ten years and then did internet banking for Nomura globally. My background is pretty much financial services all the way through…so getting the institutional funding and construction finance is not a problem for us,” Sermol explained.

While Sermol was able to estimate when the project will be completed, the project is certainly set to go ahead, with suppliers, local delivery teams and finance already prepared to deliver a project for the people of Stanley.

The cost of energy was found to be a major issue for the area after a survey conducted on around 31,000 local residents found an appetite for measures to reduce energy bills.

North Star Solar is targeting an initial saving of 20% for Stanley households from the solar panels and LED lighting, with additional savings resulting from the battery storage systems moving demand away from peak prices.

Fuel poverty

The scheme has been designed to address the levels of fuel poverty in the area, with several outlying villages within the parish suffering from high energy bills. As well as the potential for large scale deployment, Allman added that Sonnen was attracted to the project for its social value.

“Of course it’s a commercial proposition but as a company we come from the stance of having decentralised energy available for everyone, that's what we're about,” he explained.

“The schemes that we've done before or that we've got going and are all about that movement to make energy available to everyone, not just those that can afford to buy solar panels or batteries.

“It's a great scheme, really innovative and the clever financing solution that they've got opens this up for everyone to benefit from.”

The project remains in its early stages, with the number of homes to be fitted with new systems yet to be determined. However, both Leclanché and Sonnen are seeking to continue to break into the UK residential storage with large scale projects like those being planned by North Star Solar, which is currently in talks with up to six other local authorities for similar projects.

A similar, smaller scheme has already been started further north in Scotland, deploying several hundred heat batteries, each capable of storing 2.5kWh of thermal energy and suitable for pairing with PV, made by local manufacturer Sunamp. That trial will assess the impact of the systems on fuel poverty in social housing buildings.

Other notable early projects in Britain that come even anywhere near close to the latest scheme in County Durham include a government-funded trial in the south of England to deploy and aggregate 250 storage systems with a combined capacity of around 0.5MWh, made by another domestic manufacturer, Moixa.

See Energy-Storage.News' two-part video interview with Sonnen's UK & Ireland director Martin Allman, here.

Additional reporting by Andy Colthorpe.

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