Is Britain a suitable place to make solar energy?
Solar panels need daylight to make energy, so they can work well even under Britain’s relatively cloudy skies; solar panels can work even on an overcast day. In fact, Britain receives as much as 60% of solar irradiation as at the equator, making it a great place to harness the power of the sun.
How do you select a suitable location for a solar park?
We very carefully select sites for our ground-based solar parks – in fact, for every one we progress we reject many dozens of others. Our ground-based solar parks are on brownfield sites (sites that have been developed on before) or lower quality agricultural land. We carry out a wide range of in-depth environmental and technical studies to assess each site’s suitability, making sure that we can balance the benefits it offers with local people and wildlife.
The criteria we use include:
- Visual impact
- Environmental impact
- Hydrology, including flood risk
- Agricultural impact
A site also needs a good connection to the existing local electricity grid, so the energy we make could be carried away for homes and businesses to use.
What would I see at a ground-based solar park?
We consider each of our site designs very carefully, so that they are as well screened as possible in the landscape to help preserve the area’s character. To screen a solar park we use existing hedgerows and trees, or we plant new ones which add to the biodiversity on the site and will last beyond the life of the solar park. We generally find that once we do this, people don’t even know that they’re there.
We also design other features of our site to help them blend in:
- Panels sit on stands that are no more than 2.5m high
- No lights on site at night
- All cables buried underground
- Lightweight deer fencing inside the hedgerow line to protect the site
- Fixed, inward-facing CCTV cameras for security only
What can I hear at a ground-based solar park?
Solar panels are without doubt the quietest way of making energy there is, and they work completely silently.
A solar park typically needs one or more inverters to convert all the direct current (DC) power generated into the alternating current (AC) needed to power homes. Inverters emit a low level hum of around 35dB – about the same as a whisper in a quiet library, and in keeping with the existing level already present in the surrounding environment.
To make our inverters even quieter and protect them from the elements, they are housed inside a cabin typically no bigger than a garden shed, and painted to suit the existing environment.
How are ground-based solar parks created?
Creating a solar park is relatively quick and very straightforward. It typically doesn’t need any heavy construction equipment.
Panels arrive at the site pre-assembled, and simply need to be fixed to light steel frames that angle them towards the sun. We then put all of the connecting cables underground out of sight.
Typically, the cables then continue underground to an existing local substation, and from there the energy from the panels is put into the electricity grid for homes and businesses to use.
What is the effect on wildlife?
Solar parks can have a positive effect on biodiversity. They typically have a 25 year life span, and during this time the land is allowed to ‘rest’ from chemical treatment and encourage a vast variety of flora and fauna.
As solar panels are raised on platforms, over 95% of the land in a park is available for plant growth, wildlife conservation or livestock grazing.
By introducing conservation measures such as field margins and wildflower meadows to these spaces, small mammal and invertebrate populations can thrive. The creation of hedgerows, bird boxes and on-site wetland areas can also become a haven for British bird and amphibian species.
You can find out more about the positive impact a solar park can have on biodiversity here.
What is the effect on people living locally?
By carefully designing our sites in selected locations, we work hard to make sure our sites are really well hidden in the landscape and often identify the potential for additions to the park that could benefit local people. These can be anything from footpaths and riding circuits to fitness tracks and education points.
Once fully operational, a solar park requires little maintenance. A technician only needs to access the site by car or small van once a week. During the construction phase, we put in place a detailed traffic management plan to make sure that local people are affected as little as possible.
Do solar panels reflect the sun?
Solar panels are designed to absorb the sun, not reflect it. They do not create any glare that could cause a disturbance to people or to wildlife.
What happens to a solar panel at the end of its life?
A solar panel only degrades by 0.8% during its lifetime. A silicon-based PV panel is up to 80% glass by weight, so at the end of its life, it can be up to 85% recycled under the industry’s PV CYCLE scheme.
Ground-based solar parks can be entirely dismantled in weeks, and the land can be restored to arable farming or continue to be grazed by sheep and other livestock.
Do solar panels pose a health risk?
No, solar panels are completely harmless. They are mostly glass, which is made from silicon (sand). They do not, for example, emit any harmful electromagnetic frequencies which could cause health problems to people or wildlife. In fact, solar energy is one of the cleanest and safest ways of making home-grown energy there is.
Do solar panels interrupt radio frequencies?
No, solar panels emit no frequency which could affect radio equipment, mobile phones or Wi-Fi.
Can agriculture continue in a solar park?
Yes. 95 per cent of a solar park remains open to agriculture and the land can continue to be used for vegetation growth or grazing sheep and poultry. The National Farmers Union supports solar energy and recently wrote a report on how the two industries can work hand-in-hand. You can read the guidance here.
How much traffic would a solar park generate?
Once assembled a solar park requires only weekly maintenance from a technician who can access the site via car or small van.
During construction a detailed traffic management plan is put in place to make sure people living nearby face as little disruption as possible.
Typically a smaller lorry can carry around 400 panels and needs to make around 10 trips per MW of energy installed.
If a larger lorry is able to be used, these movements can be cut down to as little as 5 trips per MW of energy installed.