Solar Farms, much like most renewable energy schemes, are surrounded by controversy.
But, is it justified or just NIMBY groups annoyed by the way they look?
Well, in this blog we will look at what a solar farm is, what it is they do and how we think the future looks for solar power on an industrial scale here in the UK.
What is a solar farm?
Solar Farms, much like traditional farms, use the rolling fields of our green and pleasant land to produce something the public needs.
Rising costs of both arable and animal farming have led some farmers to rent their land out to energy companies to install solar panels or taking the initiative to fit their own renewable energy generation systems to capitalise on the green revolution.
Solar Farms are, basically, just huge versions of what you see on homes all over the UK.
The power from the sun is called insolation, or sometimes irradiation and, as you can imagine, the numbers our star generates are very high – UK’s annual insolation is in the range of 750 – 1,100 kilowatt-hours per square metre. Solar Farms help to harvest that power.
See the 17 largest solar farms in the world.
Commercial Solar Farms
These are massive, privately owned solar arrays that supply a huge amount of power directly into the grid.
Solar Farms can produce up to 5 megawatts (MW) on approximately 25 acres of land … which is enough to power 10,000 homes and businesses.
Utility-scale farms connect to the power grid by way of high-voltage power lines.
Community Solar Farms
In principle, community solar farms are the same as any other solar farm, the difference is they will either feed directly into local homes and businesses or are supplying the grid with the resulting profit going to the community.
They can either be financed by local councils, workers collectives or community groups and set up on common land or in locally designated areas.
The home and business owners participating in a community solar farm program benefit from lower energy bills and the addition of renewable energy in their areas.
How do you build a solar farm?
With a lot of help from a team of experts!
First things developers of solar farms need to look at are the size of the site, the safety from flooding/natural disaster and proximity to a place to feed energy into the grid.
Once the site has been chosen there is the problem of planning permission.
We live in a country with some of the most stunning countryside in the world and, understandably, lots of people object to fields full of solar panels spoiling the view.
However, we need to create renewable energy and we need to do it soon so, in our opinion, solar farms are no more unsightly than traditional farms which also alter the landscape in an unnatural way.
Once you’ve won the ‘Let’s go green!’ argument against the NIMBYs you’ll need to call up the experts to come along and assesses the land, cost out the installation and speak to the energy companies.
After that, it’s a case of mounting the panels, ensuring you have somewhere safe for the inverters and batteries … then making lots of cash.
How much would a solar farm cost per acre?
The price of equipment for generating solar has dropped by 80% in the last 10 years, unfortunately the price of farmland has not. The average cost of an acre of rural land is between £7,500 and £10,000.
So, the initial outlay for a solar farm could be quite considerable.
Let’s say 5 acres of land, at £37,000 (we’ve bought the cheapest land) … then the panels and inverters needed to generate 1MWh of electricity would cost about £375,000.
That is a massive investment and, at this level, you would probably be looking at selling all of the electricity you produced to one company/collective through a PPA.
A PPA is a Power Purchase Agreement and is a contract you would sign to produce power exclusively for one company for a number of years.
Are solar farms profitable in UK?
The simple answer to this is ‘Yes’.
The country needs electricity and, more importantly, that energy needs to be green and renewable.
The average return on investment for a solar farm in the UK is between 10 to 20%.
Meaning, most solar farms pay off their installation costs within five to ten years … after that they are pretty much printing free money.
As long as they are well maintained and offer consistent, reliable energy production.
Can anyone have a solar farm?
According to The Guardian in August 2022:
‘Solar farms are being refused planning permission in Great Britain at the highest rate in five years, analysis has found, with projects which would have cut £100m off annual electricity bills turned down in the past 18 months.’
Which means that although the answer to ‘Can anyone have a solar farm?’ should be yes, but it’s obviously not as easy as that.
If you can find the land, get the planning permission and hack your way through all the red tape then, yes, you can have a solar farm.
Does having a solar farm nearby devalue your property?
Express Conveyancing published an article quoting a Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) study done in conjunction with Oxford Brookes University that found reports of solar and wind farms devaluing the price of homes was not entirely accurate.
When the RICS looked more closely, they noticed that home values decreased due to other factors in the areas studied, rather than either wind or solar farms.
What countries lead the way in utility solar?
That would be China, by quite some considerable margin.
The Land of the Panda generates upwards of 306,973 Megawatts, which is almost 3 and a half times as much the next biggest solar generator, the US.
That said, the population of China is 1.4 billion, and the country itself is enormous, so they have the motivation and space to build massive solar farms.
As we said, the US is second on the list with 95,209 Megawatts of generation.
Surprisingly, considering how many huge solar farms they have, India are at number 5, producing 49,684 Megawatts.
That’s less than both Japan, 74,191 MW, and Germany, 58,461 MW.
The UK is a fairly small place so we only make it to number 13 with our, still impressive, 13,689 MW.
The Future of Solar Farms – Agrivoltaics
We’re just going to touch on this because it’s a whole new blog.
What is Agrivoltaic Farming?
Simply put, Agrivoltaic farming mixes agriculture and solar farming.
Originally started in Japan as a way to save space and produce enough food to feed the nation, France and Germany have become the world leaders with India and China not far behind.
Scientists found a way of mounting panels that not only harnesses the sun’s energy but also allows heavy farm machinery to use the fields.
How does Agrivoltaic farming work?
This system is all about choosing a system of panels that best benefit the food you are trying to grow.
Shade tolerant crops were the most successful in early trials – these can be grown in hot countries where the panels can be used to protect the crops.
However, French farmers have been experimenting with having the panels mounted on much higher frames. This allows heavy machinery to be used to plant and harvest so cereal crops can be planted and harvested.
While it’s still in its infancy, we feel there is a great future in this kind of joined up thinking.