Project name: Machrihanish Airbase Community Company (MACC)
Technology: Solar PV
Location: Machrihanish Airbase, near Campbeltown, Argyll and Bute
CARES funding: CARES Innovation grant £10,866 plus start up grant of £9,400
Date installed/operational: 24 July 2018
Established in March 2008, Machrihanish Airbase Community Company (MACC) purchased the former RAF Machrihanish airbase in May 2012 from the Ministry of Defence for £1. The site includes more than 220 buildings, a 3kM runway and taxiway, five hectares of hardstanding, 1,025 acres of land within a fenced site and a private water, sewage and 11kV high voltage electricity system.
MACC’s vision is to build a prosperous and sustainable future for the local community. It aims to do this by unlocking the potential of the site’s properties and assets to stimulate socio-economic growth in the area.
Sustainability is embedded in the organisation’s objectives, and it aims to generate all its electricity and heating requirements from renewable sources by 2030. Since 2012 it has been investigating options for the developing renewable energy on the site and in 2017, after several years of feasibility studies, it submitted planning permission for a 1MW solar farm on the site.
Project aims and objectives
The project aims to reduce the site’s electricity consumption as much as possible by generating its own energy from an on-site solar PV farm.
The project must be able to demonstrate a return on investment within a reasonable timeframe so that there are sufficient funds to replace the infrastructure in the future. The project must be also appropriately sized in order to generate enough energy to offset its electricity consumption and be affordable to MACC so that there is no need to raise external finance.
MACC applied for CARES funding for the costs of detailed feasibility work to look at the costs of sizing a large, ground-mounted solar PV system and designing a smart energy management system that would maximise onsite use and allow it to export electricity when needed.
Outcomes and achievements
The results of the feasibility study indicated that the best course of action would be to size the solar PV array so that all the electricity generated was used on site and no export was required. This could be achieved in a straightforward way without a smart energy system.
MACC installed a 250kW ground-mounted solar PV array in July 2018. The project was delivered significantly under the original budget after a competitive tender process. Because of the rising cost of electricity, the original forecasted return on investment has reduced. MACC was able to secure the Feed-in Tariff but the project’s return on investment would have been acceptable without FIT support being secured.
Malcom McMillan of MACC outlined several lessons learned:
“Overall, it [solar PV] was, and is, a very easy technology to install and manage (plug and play).
“Professional project management was extremely valuable during the tendering and build phases, although it did impact the return on investment. An on-site project manager is also advisable – because there were multiple subcontractors, there were basic mistakes that caused delay that could have been avoided with an early conversation.
“Establishing the Feed in Tariff payment is complex and time consuming (we still haven’t been approved! [March 2020]). Grant monies for the original idea development was vitally important to making a viable project come to fruition.
“Equipment warranties should be as long as possible as we have had failures of inverters/panel. Solar output models have been accurate to within +/- 5% of the forecast.
“I would recommend installing an Automated Meter Reading device with an electronic output or another form of remote monitoring, otherwise faults could occur, but you don’t know [about them], which costs you money.”