Below is a list of common questions about solar farms. Please click on the arrow to see the answer.
The construction period is 16 weeks from start to finish. After construction, access for operations and maintenance activities are limited to three or four times per year.
Decisions about renewable energy developments are never black or white and the interplay between the natural and built environment is always a balancing act between competing interests. Not everyone will agree that a supply of renewable energy is more important than the effect on the landscape. However, the effects of climate change on the countryside (e.g. visual/ecological) should also be considered. The majority of solar farms are designed to be away from main centres of population and, where possible, screened by existing vegetation to minimise visual impact. Placing solar farms on flat south-facing land or gentle slopes also helps to minimise the impact on the landscape. Likewise, while existing natural screening is sought, any shadows cast need to be avoided in the design of the panel layout, otherwise the site would fail to yield the optimum electricity generation for the national grid. National Planning and Climate Change Policy explicitly states that protecting the landscape should ‘not preclude’ renewable energy schemes ‘except in the most exceptional circumstances’, such as a nationally designated landscape. A landscape and visual impact assessment has been commissioned and will accompany the planning application.
A typical 5MWp solar farm covers approximately 36 acres (14.8 hectares) of land. At most, only 1/3 of the total area is covered by solar panels.
Solar panels are typically 1.6m by 1m in size and are mounted between 1m and 2.65m above the ground (max. height 2.8m - depending on the angle/frame design), providing clearance for plants and other habitats to remain.
The only noise emitted from a solar farm usually relates to mechanical noise, which may emanate from the inverter and electrical switch gear. Inverters are therefore typically located centrally within a solar farm development, in order to minimise noise impact beyond the site boundaries. Any noise from the plant and equipment is only generated during daylight hours. A noise assessment has been commissioned and will consider the need for any noise mitigation. The assessment will form part of the planning application submission.
No widespread levelling of the ground in advance of the works is required. There is practically no loss of soil coverage (< 0.1%) as a result of the solar farm and no ‘desertification’ of the land as enough sunlight and rain can get through/between the panels to maintain the plant life.
In general, modules are attached to an aluminium mounting system, comprising two posts that are in turn bolted to galvanised steel posts that are rammed into the ground. This arrangement avoids the need for a concrete base platform and reduces the removal costs at the end of the system life, as well as the carbon footprint of the mounting system. The depth of the steel posts is determined by engineering calculations taking wind loading and ground conditions into account but is typically around 1m —1.5m. The mounting system chosen is suitable for the specific environment. We need to install a small concrete foundation for our inverter and switch gear housings in order to ensure that these are installed on a level and stable footing. However, in each location, we seek to minimise any levelling and concrete usage associated with these units.
The solar farm does not mean an end to agricultural use of the site. Animals such as sheep can continue to graze around the solar panels for the lifetime of the solar farm. Panels are mounted between 1m and 2.65m above the ground (max. height 2.8m - depending on the angle/frame design), providing clearance for plants and other habitats to remain.
In Germany, Russia and the USA (where the solar industry is more established), several solar farms have been installed in close proximity to airports. There have been no reports of disturbances either from environmental tests or from open-space solar farm usage. In fact, pilots have been reported to use solar farms as visual markers for navigation.
Solar cells are made to absorb as much light as possible and not to reflect it: they are light converters and have extremely low reflection levels, which increases the efficiency of the cell. Any reflection that may occur would be limited as the sun’s position changes all the time. What’s more, reflected sunlight is always less intense than direct sunlight, because it is not possible for the full amount to be reflected.
Early solar farm installations over 30 years old are still going strong. Based on manufacturers’ in-field experience and reliability testing, PV modules probably last longer, and according to BP Solar are more reliable than just about any other capital investment in renewable energy. In 2003, BP Solar published the results of their analysis of warranty claims and reported that of more than two million modules in service over nearly ten years, approximately one-tenth of one percent were reported faulty, noting “this represents one module failure for every 4,200 module-years of operation.” Put another way, for every one thousand panels, we would experience the failure of ten modules in 40 years. At the end of its working life, the area can be restored at low financial and environmental costs, in contrast to fossil fuel or nuclear power stations.* [*] BP Statistical Review of World Energy (June 2010).
Once the solar farm ceases to operate, the modules and associated plant and equipment will be removed and the site will be returned to its original agricultural use.