Blog - Can a solar farm be set up anywhere in the UK? | Samuel Knight
May 11, 2023 Energy

Can a solar farm be set up anywhere in the UK?

Solar farms are an increasingly popular way to generate renewable energy and create an additional revenue stream. They consist of ground-mounted solar panels arranged in rows on frames fixed into the ground. These large-scale solar photovoltaic (PV) systems, also called utility-scale or grid-scale solar PV plants, can cover an area from 1 to 100+ acres in the UK, providing safe and locally produced renewable energy for many years. 

Solar farms can help power communities and allow utility companies to increase their energy production. However, they must adhere to specific regulations and requirements to operate effectively. 

The largest solar farm in the UK produces 46 MW of power and can power 14,000 homes. For every 5 MW of installation, approximately 25 acres of land are needed, while 1 MW farms require 6 to 8 acres. In addition to the panels, space is also needed for inverters, storage batteries, and maintenance access between rows. 

To supply the electricity generated, the chosen land must have a grid connection. If there is no existing connection in place, one must be established and financed. Proximity to overhead cables and a substation generally increases the likelihood of a successful connection application. The developer's interconnection expenses rise the farther the location is from the grid. 

Solar farms are typically constructed in rural areas and require careful consideration of the suitability of the land. The ideal locations for solar farms are flat land or south-facing slopes. Planning permission is required for ground-mounted solar panel systems larger than 9 square meters, meaning that all solar farms require it. In the UK, a strict set of planning procedures must be followed and passed before construction can begin. Planners prioritize the development of brownfield and unused land and assess the potential impact on the local area, taking into account both ecological and socio-economic factors. 

While solar PV arrays have a long lifespan, planners will also require that the installation area be reinstated with minimal environmental impact in the event that the PV system is decommissioned. 

Planners will consider ways to minimize the visual impact of a solar PV installation in areas that could be described as having heritage assets. A heritage asset does not need to be legally protected such as a conservation area. 

As part of the planning process for ground-mounted solar PV arrays, the impact of the site on changing flood risk to the surrounding area and drainage must be carefully considered due to the size of the sites. 

To operate effectively, solar farms need to be in areas with the right conditions, adhere to planning regulations, have a grid connection, and consider their impact on the environment and local community. By meeting these requirements, solar farms can provide a safe, locally produced renewable energy source for many years to come. 

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