What makes a site suitable for a solar farm?

Utilising Searchland's custom sourcing tool simplifies the process of identifying potential sites for solar farms. But what exactly defines the perfect location for such a development? Let's delve into the key characteristics developers need to consider.

January 26, 2024

The UK's solar energy sector is experiencing rapid growth, boasting over 1,100 solar farms with a total capacity of 8.67 gigawatts (15 gigawatts if you include residential and commercial installations). But with the government's ambitious goal to increase solar power capacity to 70 GW by 2035, the race is on to build more.

Previously, we've explored '11 ways Searchland helps renewable companies find land'. This time, we delve deeper into the specific criteria that land acquisition teams must consider when identifying prime locations for solar energy projects.

Finding the ideal site for a solar park is a complex task, influenced by factors such as land size, location, and planning status. While some of these are essential, other considerations can be a bit more flexible. Join us as we examine the key criteria that should be guiding your search for land.

Proximity to grid connection

The success of a renewable energy project often depends on securing a cost-effective grid connection. This is especially true for solar or battery storage projects, which need access to at least a 33kV (33,000-volt) grid connection, and a substation with enough spare capacity (or headroom) to support the energy you are generating. Typically developers should be looking for sites within 2 miles of a suitable substation.

  • If the grid connection is on the planned site, things are much easier. If a connection is near the site but not on it, a third-party access agreement would be required, which adds complexity and cost.
  • If there is a suitable grid connection, you may need to act quickly. A substation available today may no longer be viable in six months.
  • Just because electricity lines are close to a prospective site, don’t assume there is a suitable grid connection. It might be good news, but it might not: the line’s voltage could be too low, or there might not be enough capacity in the network.

Distance to infrastructure

Easy access to main roads is vital. It facilitates the transportation of materials and equipment, keeping transport costs to a minimum, which is crucial in reducing the overall expenditure of the project.

Legal status of land

If there's one critical aspect that can immediately hinder your energy farm project, it's the local land policy and planning constraints. Therefore, evaluating these factors should be your primary step when you come across a site that appears to meet all your requirements.

  • Protected land: Generally, land for solar or battery storage projects should not be within a national park, nature reserve, area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB), or site of special scientific interest (SSSI). However, exceptions may exist in certain cases.
  • Agricultural land classification: Land should not typically be high-quality agricultural land reserved for farming (referred to as “best and most versatile” land in England and Wales, and “prime” agricultural land in Scotland). In some regions where land is scarce, local authorities may be more flexible.
  • Flood zones: Ideally land should be outside flood zones. Development is still possible in flood zones 1 and 2 (areas with low to medium flood probability), provided a flood risk assessment is conducted and necessary design mitigations are implemented.

Size of site

The success of your project hinges on the size of the land parcel. It’s also important to note that local towns and authorities usually do not permit full coverage of the entire parcel. Typically, they will likely allow somewhere in the vicinity of 60% of the total acreage to be covered.

  • For a solar farm, which demands more space, the minimum requirement is usually around 50 acres. This area must be consolidated into a single site rather than scattered across multiple, disconnected smaller plots. Dispersed solar installations lead to increased energy losses and maintenance expenses, and they can also impact agricultural land use more significantly. That being said, it’s feasible to assemble multiple connected land titles to create the perfect solar land parcel.
  • In contrast, battery storage facilities have much more modest space requirements. A parcel of just two or three acres is typically sufficient for these installations.
Ideal site for solar energy farm in the UK

Weather conditions and sunlight

For solar power projects, location plays a crucial role in determining viability. Land in the southern regions of the UK, particularly the southeast along the coast, is often most suitable due to its sunnier climate. As you move further north, the feasibility of solar projects can decrease - but that doesn’t mean you should rule it out. 

While sunshine is key for solar panels, you want to make sure that they don’t overheat. According to manufacturers’ standards, 25°C is the optimum temperature for solar panels to operate.

Proximity to residential areas

When selecting a site for solar or battery storage projects, it's preferable to choose land that's not too close to residential areas, due to several considerations:

  • Noise from battery storage: The air conditioning units necessary for battery storage systems can generate significant noise. 
  • Community reception to solar farms: The development of solar farms can sometimes be contentious. While many people support solar energy for its role in combating climate change, others may have reservations.

Terrain suitability

When evaluating your land for a renewable energy project, certain practical features can significantly impact its suitability. As with a traditional agricultural farm, the quality of the terrain will play a significant role in determining the viability and success of the project. Solar developers are seeking clear, flat land, with little to no wetlands, and minimal incline (5 degrees maximum).

Land topography:

  • For solar: Ideally, the land should be flat or on a gentle south-facing slope. Slight undulations are manageable, but steep inclines or north-facing orientations are less ideal.
  • For battery storage: While flat terrain is also preferred, the construction on a concrete base provides some flexibility to accommodate unevenness.

Vegetation and tree cover:

  • For solar: Tall trees, particularly on the southern side of the site, can pose challenges by casting shadows over the panels. While it's possible to manage a few trees on one boundary, a site free from tall trees is generally more desirable.
How developers can find solar sites in the UK quickly

Finding the perfect site for your solar project involves considering a multitude of complex factors. Searchland simplifies this process by bringing together essential data through an array of specialized tools, all in one accessible platform. Our tools include:

Proximity filter: Locate sites within a certain distance from important local infrastructure like roads and towns.

DNO Tool: Access critical details on substations, network capacity, and cable infrastructure.

Solar Tool: Identify the best areas in the UK for optimal sunlight and temperature conditions.

These tools are designed to work together seamlessly. Want to use the proximity filter with the DNO tool to locate nearby substations? No problem.

This functionality not only surfaces a vast array of potential sites but also enables the quick elimination of unsuitable options, focusing efforts on the most promising locations. The true value of Searchland lies in its ability to transform an overwhelming selection process into a streamlined journey, leading directly to those golden sites ideal for your energy development project.

July 9, 2024

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