Key statistics and facts
- 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 the South of England generate 65% of the power they would in Central Spain
- 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 technologies for generating revenue in the UK
- 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.
- 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 compared to other technologies
- 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 consumers the choice of buying green electricity and reduce reliance on fossil fuels
Common myths about solar farms
Solar Parks cause flooding
When rain falls on an individual solar panel, it runs across the surface, drops to the ground and collects in tiny rivulets. These rivulets are effectively managed by a special system of small channels and mounds of soil which slow the flow of water so it is absorbed into the ground more quickly.
BSR Energy uses independent specialist consultants, such as Yellow Sub Geo to carry out a Flood Risk Assessment for each of its planning applications. Yellow Sub Geo has calculated that a typical solar park can increase the risk of flooding by 0.01%. The bespoke water management system accommodates this increase and can actually reduce the risk of flooding.
Solar Parks emit a glint/glare which is dangerous to passing motorists and aircraft
Poly-crystalline solar panels are designed to absorb light, which is why they are dark in colour, and they have anti-reflective coatings to reduce reflection. As a result the panels absorb between 82-90% of the light they receive, which is much greater degree of light absorption than other features in a landscape including water, grass and trees.
Solar Parks use agricultural land that would otherwise be used to grow food
BSR Energy recognises that the provision of renewable, non-imported energy should not be at the expense of maintaining a supply of home-grown foods. It supports this principle by ensuring it doesn’t apply for solar parks on prime agricultural land. Using the government land grading of 1 to 5, this means not using Grade 1 land, avoiding Grade 2 land and grazing sheep on the land it does build on, which is typically Grade 3a, 3b and 4.
Solar Parks are noisy
There are three potential noise sources from a working solar park – the inverters, transformers and substations that are used to regulate the production of electricity. For each of these, the operational noise level can be up to 60dBA (decibels) within a few metres of the source, which is quieter than an average conversation. Noise is rarely an issue. In very quiet areas, special equipment can be used to reduce noise further.
Solar Parks destroy wildlife
When BSR Energy plans a solar park it ensures there will be no adverse impact on natural habitat. It uses deer fencing with 10cm gaps at the base to allow wildlife to roam freely, and in many cases actually increases biodiversity through planting new hedgerows and trees.
For each site independent specialist consultants carry out a survey of natural habitat – it is their job to ensure that no wildlife will be harmed and that BSR Energy’s planning applications include measures to enhance biodiversity. Landowners of BSR Energy’s operational solar parks report that their sites have seen an increase in fauna, and that in the absence of pesticides and fertilisers, wild flowers have colonised on the edges of the land.
Solar have a negative ‘carbon footprint’
A solar PV panel mounted in the UK, will produce many times over the energy required for its production. Life cycle assessments look at the energy/carbon payback time through a panel’s production, operation and disposal, and studies have shown that payback periods range from 2-7 years. Though all studies have different ‘boundaries’ and variables to consider payback of carbon, they all agree that the solar PV does not require more energy to produce than it creates.
How a solar farm works
Solar panels produce energy from light which is fed along cables to an electrical connection that combines the input from multiple panels. This feeds into an inverter which turns the electricity from DC to AC.
Immediately next to each inverter is a transformer that increases the AC voltage to that of the local grid. Each transformer on the site feeds into electrical switch gear that links the solar farm to the distribution network operator’s (DNO) substation.
From here it enters the national grid and is available for local businesses and homes.
The whole system feeds constant live data back to the office so that the operations and maintenance team knows how well the site is performing.
The physical structure
Solar panels are mounted on steel frames which are arranged in rows, with an approximate total height of between 2.5m and 3m. There is a ground clearance of 0.8m below the base of the solar panels to allow for the grazing of sheep. In most cases, the steel frames are driven directly into the ground, to a depth of 1.5m using small piling rigs. This negates the need for concrete and limits disturbance of the land.
A number of sealed inverter housing units are located within each site – how many depends on the size of the project. Each unit is approximately 7m x 3m x 3m and has an adjacent open air transformer which is about 2 cubic meters. In addition, each solar farm requires a DNO sub-station and a private sub-station. These are typically located close to the overhead lines and measure about 40x40m in total. They are designed to blend as naturally as possible with the surroundings.
- A typical build period for a 50MW (200acre) site is 4-6 months
- We do everything possible to minimise disruption or nuisance to the local community
- Site facilities are delivered at the beginning and end of this period
- The main traffic relates to delivery of panels and frames which arrive on lorries.
- 2m high wire mesh fencing is installed around the perimeter of the solar farm
- This is typically green unless the Local Planning Authority require otherwise
- The fence contains sensors that can withstand rubbing from sheep
- Thermal imaging cameras are installed and are operational 24 hours per day
- Thermal imaging cameras can detect and distinguish between human and wildlife
- If a detector is activated, an alert is sent to the remote monitoring company who act as required
On-going land management
We have a specialist Land Management Team responsible for implementing landscape and environmental strategy.
As well as grazing sheep, the passive nature of solar installations provides unique opportunities to create wildlife habitats, a safe haven for pollinators and improved biodiversity through careful, environmentally-sensitive land management.
Natural screening is provided by existing hedges which are maintained and improved when necessary. New hedgerows of indigenous flora can be planted, usually in 3 rows that reach maturity at 4 years. Where instant screening is required, planting includes more mature trees of 2-2.5m high.
In the UK, a solar farm’s operational life is usually related to planning consent – 30 years. The land retains its agricultural classification unless it was a brownfield site.
Our policy is to remove all equipment and return the land to its original state. Many components are re-saleable and the panels go to a specialist recycling organisation.
THE LAND REQUIREMENTS
There are a number of considerations related to identification of the perfect solar site and a few which rule out a site automatically, such as no capacity on the local grid. Below is a list of our preferred site criteria.
Preferred site criteria
- Up to 200 acres in as few fields as possible to minimise shading from hedges
- Ideally, land that is flat or that has a gentle south-facing slope
- Free of large trees and shrubs or anything that might create large periods of shade across the middle of the land
- Preferably, lower grade land or a brownfield site
- Away from listed buildings and monuments
- Minimal visibility from residential properties
- Easily accessible by large vehicles for construction purposes.