Explainer: Solar Farms

What is a solar farm?

Solar farms (sometimes known as solar parks or solar fields) are the large-scale application of solar photovoltaic (PV) panels to generate green, clean electricity at scale, usually to feed into the grid.

Solar farms can cover anything between 1 acre and 100 acres, and are usually developed in rural areas.

Solar farms go through a rigorous planning procedure before they are approved. This takes into account the suitability of the specific site, any potential impact on the area and relevant renewable energy targets.

The UK needs solar power to meet its 15% renewable energy target by 2020, part of the EU’s renewable energy target. Solar also creates investment and local green jobs, whilst reducing the reliance on overseas fossil fuel imports.

Solar farms are eligible for financial incentives under the Feed-in Tariff (FiTs) scheme, the  Renewables Obligation (RO) scheme (both below 5MW) and the Contracts for Difference (CfDs) for solar farms above 5MW.

Solar Farm

Credit: Lightsource

Key statistics and facts about solar farms

  • Solar farms are the most nature-friendly way of generating power for the grid – and support endangered wildlife such as bees
  • Solar makes virtually no noise or waste and has no moving parts
  • Many solar farms are grazed by sheep or combined with other farming
  • Solar is the most popular form of energy generation at more than 80% support
  • Solar works well in Britain – solar panels in London generate 65% of the power they would in Madrid
  • Community groups can invest in or set up their own solar farms
  • Cheap electricity from solar farms could put £425m back into consumers’ pockets through reduced energy bills by 2030
  • Solar is one of the best energy sources for keeping profit in the UK
Credit: Westmill Solar Cooperative

Credit: Westmill Solar Cooperative

Some facts about solar farms

– They generate electricity locally and feed into the local electricity grid using a free source of energy (the sun) to generate electricity  on bright cloudy days as well as in direct sunlight.

– For every  5MW installed, a solar farm will power 1,515 homes for  a year  (based on an average annual consumption of 3,300 kWh of electricity for a house) and save 2,150 tonnes of CO2. Approximately 25 acres of land is required for every 5 megawatts (MW) of installation.

– They represent time-limited, reversible land use and provide an increased, diversified and  stable source of income for landowners

– They may have dual purpose usage with sheep or other animals grazing between rows, and can help to support biodiversity by allowing small animals access to otherwise fenced-off land, with bird and insect fodder plants and wildflowers sown around the modules.

– If 10,000MW of solar was installed on the ground, it would only use 0.1% of UK agricultural land area, whilst being able to generate enough electricity for over 3 million homes.

– There are no moving parts, and maintenance is minimal

– There is no by-product or waste generated, except during manufacturing or dismantling.

– They have lower visual and environmental impacts than other forms of power generation

– Renewables give the customer the choice of buying green electricity and reduce reliance on scarce fossil fuels

Good Practice Guidance for Solar Farms

The STA’s 10 Commitments

 

 

Solar farm developers, builders or tenants who are members of the STA comply with the following best practice guidance:

  1. We will focus on non-agricultural land or land which is of lower agricultural quality.
  2. We will be sensitive to nationally and locally protected landscapes and nature conservation areas, and we welcome opportunities to enhance the ecological value of the land.
  3. We will minimise visual impact where possible and maintain appropriate screening throughout the lifetime of the project managed through a Land Management and/or Ecology plan.
  4. We will engage with the community in advance of submitting a planning application, including seeking the support of the local community and listening to their views and suggestions.
  5. We will encourage land diversification by proposing continued agricultural use or incorporating biodiversity measures within our projects.
  6. We will do as much buying and employing locally as possible.
  7. We will act considerately during construction, and demonstrate ‘solar stewardship’ of the land for the lifetime of the project.
  8. We will offer investment opportunities to communities in their local solar farms where there is local appetite and where it is commercially viable.
  9. We commit to using the solar farm as an educational opportunity, where appropriate.
  10. At the end of the project life we will return the land to its former use.
Credit: Belectric

Credit: Belectric

Solar farms help fight climate change but they can also make a substantial contribution to protect British countryside biodiversity and work alongside agriculture. A number of good quality reports and guidance documents have been published by bodies such as the STA, BRE National Solar Centre, National Farmer Union and Natural England. Please find links to these publications below.

BRE National Solar Centre (NSC): Agricultural Good Practice Guidance for Solar Farms

BRE National Solar Centre (NSC): Biodiversity Guidance for Solar Developments

BRE National Solar Centre (NSC): planning guidance for the development of large scale solar ground mounted solar PV systems

House of Commons (Jan 2014):  Solar Farms (Planning & Good Practice Guidance)

National Farmers Union (NFU): Solar photo-voltaic electricity in agriculture – on your roof or in your fields?

Natural EnglandSolar parks: maximising environmental benefits

German Renewable Energies Agencies: German Biodiversity report