Chinese state-owned group, UK developers in US$1.6bn deal to build homes with solar and storage

The BHS homes (pictured) will feature solar, storage and other clean energy technologies. Image: WElink.

UK solar developers WElink Energy and British Solar Renewables (BSR) have signed a £1.1 billion (US$1.6 billion) deal with China National Building Materials Group (CNBM) to develop solar energy projects and zero-carbon homes in the UK.

The agreement, which builds on the raft of trade arrangements signed between China and the UK toward the end of last year, will see the trio collaborate to develop more than 130MW of solar PV over the course of 2016.

And rooftop solar is to be a central element of the agreement’s housing component. WElink will work with CNBM to develop an initial tranche of 8,000 homes for the UK market. The one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments are to be constructed using the ‘Barcelona Housing Systems’(BHS) solution, which comprises a pre-engineered construction technique formulated by European architect Cesar Martinell & Associates.

The housing system features zero-buildings which will be developed specifically to result in net zero water usage and zero waste. Rooftop solar, waste-to-energy and energy storage technologies are also included in the BHS designs, contributing towards a complete ‘green town’ concept.

Factories to produce the required housing components will be established near to the housing developments to create additional jobs throughout their construction.

CNBM, WElink and BSR will develop 4,000 homes between 2016 and 2018 while a further 4,000 will be developed after that.

Should there be enough appetite for the homes, additional units could also be developed.

Angus MacDonald, managing director at BSR, said that the agreement was “tremendous news” both for his company and those in need of low-cost housing.

“The opportunity could not be better timed in terms of the governments goals, our countries low carbon policy commitment and our growing need for more affordable homes. It will create a significant number of jobs in the development of this next generation of energy efficient housing,” he said.

“Given the priority the UK Government has placed on clean energy and affordable zero carbon Housing, we are proud to present this decisive solution for the UK. Given the scalability of our BHS solution and the near zero energy buildings that are constructed in combination with the engineering, financial and strategic  support of our Chinese partners, we believe we can expand rapidly to fulfil the appetite for the development of affordable housing in the UK,” Barry O’Neill, chief executive at WElink, added.

The WElink announcement follows a recent project in Scotland involving heat storage battery maker Sunamp, which will see thermal storage devices paired with PV in several hundred social housing developments, in a trial to assess the impact of the technologies on fuel poverty, backed by an unnamed Chinese investor. Internationally, other homebuilders have also started looking at the possibilities for incorporating solar, storage and energy efficiency technologies in their designs – in the US, production homebuilder KB Home has a deal with SunPower for a "double-zero" energy home, while German storage manufacturer ASD Sonnenspeicher is partnered with a prefabricated homebuilder, WeberHaus, to give two examples.

In October last year, coinciding with Chinese president Xi Jinping’s state visit to the UK, the two countries signed a “clean energy partnership”, building on a raft of lucrative trade agreements in areas such as nuclear energy and electric vehicles.

The WElink announcement follows a recent project in Scotland involving heat storage battery maker Sunamp, which will see thermal storage devices paired with PV in several hundred social housing developments, in a trial to assess the impact of the technologies on fuel poverty, backed by an unnamed Chinese investor. Internationally, other homebuilders have also started looking at the possibilities for incorporating solar, storage and energy efficiency technologies in their designs – in the US, production homebuilder KB Home has a deal with SunPower for a "double-zero" energy home, while German storage manufacturer ASD Sonnenspeicher is partnered with a prefabricated homebuilder, WeberHaus, to give two examples.

After a period in which the UK was unquestionably the biggest solar market in Europe, driven by a supportive policy environment, it was expected that a government "policy reset" at the end of last year threatening cuts to the country's feed-in tariff and renewable obligation schemes could leave the country's industry in tatters.

In the end, while severe reductions were applied, the lowering of FiTs equated to around a 64% cut rather than the expected 87%. Solar Intelligence analyst Finlay Colville wrote for PV Tech's UK site Solar Power Portal that the industry might owe a debt of gratitude to lobbyists including the Solar Trade Association for their campaigning efforts. Colville, who extensively researches and produces reports on the UK solar PV market, has predicted that the domestic market should be able to sustain stable gigawatt level deployment for 2016 and 2017.

Tags: solar-plus-storage, housing, energy efficiency

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