Intelligent Living
Housing Sustainability

First Coal-fired Power Plant To Become Sustainable Solar Power Village

The biggest redevelopment yet of a former UK power plant is taking place at the site of the old Rugeley coal-fired power plant in Staffordshire. The transformation will include 2,000 energy-efficient, solar-powered homes featuring rooftop, ground-mounted and even floating solar panels, battery storage, heat pumps, and other energy efficiency measures. This is the first (and only, so far) coal-fired power plant to become a sustainable solar-powered village.

Super-efficient homes are to be built on the Rugeley coal power plant site
Super-efficient homes are to be built on the Rugeley coal power plant site. Photograph: nagelestock.com/Alamy

In 2016, Rugeley Power Station stopped generating electricity for the National Grid due to economic pressures and environmental regulations. It is the fate of all coal power stations (there are only 7 operational ones left) in the UK; they are required to shut down by a government deadline of 2025. So what will happen in its place? The power plants occupy massive parcels of land. At Rugeley, they are seizing the opportunity to deliver an exciting new future for the site through a mixed-use development.

The Rugeley site to be transformed into an eco-village

The 139-hectare site is owned by a French firm called Engie. Now that the UK has moved so decisively toward lower carbon electricity, companies like Engie, who have had to shut down their electricity stations, have to either sell the land or do something with it. Engie has decided against selling off the land. They want to turn it into something positive, to “move beyond energy”. That is why this project is being developed directly by them.

Wilfrid Petrie, Engie UK’s chief executive, describes their new strategy as such:

“We are positioning ourselves as going beyond energy into place-making. It’s an example of us closing down our coal power plant and, instead of selling off the land, we’ve decided to regenerate it ourselves.”

Half of the energy required by the new homes will come from solar panels fitted on rooftops, in a field and even floating on a lake. The company is planning for 10 megawatts of solar capacity in total. That is equivalent to one of the UK’s smaller solar farms. The entire village will use batteries, both in homes and at a communal power storage facility, to balance out electricity supply and demand.

Rugeley sustainable village artist's impression
Rugeley sustainable village artist’s impression | Credit: ENGIE

These homes are projected to be so efficient they will use about 1/3 less power than equivalent conventional buildings. One of the reasons being that the heating will come not from gas boilers but electric devices such as heat pumps.

Peter Atherton, who is an analyst at Cornwall Insight said:

“Putting local electricity generation at the heart of new housing projects was almost becoming a prerequisite for developers to get through planning. It is the way of the future. There is no doubt large-scale housing developments going forward are going to have some form of local generation because it is the entire craze.”

The site owner is committed to working closely with the local community and they appointed architects and urban designers JTP to facilitate a Community Planning Weekend. Over 400 people took part in the process to help shape a Vision for the future of this important site and its relationship with the town of Rugeley. Using the people’s input, suggestions and requests, the ENGIE team will develop some proposals with JTP.

Consultation on the scheme has already begun. Construction of the village is due to start next year, while the demolition of the former coal plant (including the cooling towers) is due to finish in 2020. The first inhabitants will move in 2021.

Wilfrid Petrie says:

“ENGIE’s decision to retain ownership and lead the repurposing of the site builds on our track record of going beyond energy and confirms our position at the forefront of the UK’s transition towards lower carbon, more energy-efficient development. Our ambition is to create a new landmark in place-making and sustainable living. We hope that our plans will help to stimulate the local economy and be an enabler of investment into future growth for the area.”

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