FAQs

Frequently asked questions – if you have any queries that are not captured here, please drop us a line on info@exagen.co.uk

Frequently asked questions

Landowners

How do I know my land is suitable for a PV installation?Reveal

Ideally sites will be large, flat fields with existing screening to the boundaries and on lower grade agricultural land outside of statutory environmental designations. Once in receipt of a potential site, Exagen will carry out an initial desktop feasibility assessment to establish its suitability. This will be based on a number of different factors, such as agricultural land classification, flood risk, shading, visual impact and topography.  If potentially suitable, we visit the site to consider it in more detail and with the landowner’s authority, we also begin the process of establishing whether it is possible to connect the site to the grid.

As landowner, how much could I earn?Reveal

In the UK, historically, there has been subsidy support from the Government for solar development. However, since 2015 the UK government has withdrawn subsidy support. Exagen is now building a pipeline of large-scale, subsidy free solar projects in the UK, to capitalise on one of the cheapest forms of electricity generation and deliver lower energy bills.

The cost of installation remains broadly similar per megawatt for each site.  However, the level of energy production and the cost of connecting to the power grid can differ considerably so the rent we can offer depends on a number of key variables, including:

  • Location – this determines the solar resource available and the solar value of the land;
  • Aspect, shading and gradient – this has a bearing on energy production;
  • Grid connection cost – this is a key variable in determining installation cost and time to connect, and;
  • Ability to include battery storage as part of the development, which requires the grid to accept both the export and import of electricity.

As every site is different, we create a bespoke deal for each landowner.  Should you wish to discuss your land, please call us, our development team is ready to discuss rental rates with you.

Why is Exagen different from other developers?Reveal

Many developers look to secure land, grid and planning and then sell the project at the construction stage. However, Exagen provides a single point of contact for the landowner through the entire grid/planning process and during the construction phase into the operational phase – we are a developer, builder, asset owner and asset manager. We work with a select number of planning and environmental consultants, including specialists in archaeology, landscape and ecology. This ensures a responsible approach to the development, while also guaranteeing that the installation remains sensitive to needs of the local community and environment. We are a UK founded and UK backed business who cares about the communities we work with.

How long will I be required to lease my land for?Reveal

The basic lease we require is for 40 years, in order to recoup the capital investment and to generate sufficient financial return.  It is therefore important that as landowner, you are comfortable with the long-term nature of our agreement. This does however provide a form of index linked income diversification for the farm over a long period.

As landowner, what risks do I face? Reveal

The financial risks are minimal for the landowner – we will cover all landowner legal costs during initial discussions in agreeing an option agreement. We operate a straight-forward land rental agreement, bound by a contractual lease. The solar farm is set up as a separate company with its own legal identity, thereby ensuring it remains separate and distinct from any potential financial liabilities of Exagen. The rental agreement is with the individual solar project company; with a predictable level of energy generation, the operational risks for this company is low. A fund is set aside in the final years of the lease to ensure money is available for the decommissioning and reinstatement of your land when the land is returned to the condition it was in before the project.

What happens at the end of the lease?Reveal

We return your land to its previous state by removing all components of the solar farm allowing the land to revert to its former use.  This is not just a contractual agreement between you and Exagen but also is typically a prerequisite for the local planning authority to grant planning consent. Our panels are mounted on pile driven frames that cause minimum disturbance to the land and can be easily removed.

Is planning required and will I be responsible for this?Reveal

Any ground-mounted solar installation will require planning consent.  Exagen manages this process, including preparation of the planning documents, meeting with the local planning authority and any interaction with the local community. Access to the land will be required for environmental surveys and used to inform the final design and assessments that are submitted with the planning application.

Is permission required to connect to the electricity grid network?Reveal

An application must be made to the Network Operator for approval prior to carrying out the installation Exagen manages this and we run this process in parallel with preparation of the planning application.

Technology

How does a solar farm work?Reveal

The solar panels are typically installed at a fixed angle in south facing rows or alternatively on a north to south axis with panels tracking the movement of the sun through the day.  Inverters take the DC power generated by the panels and converts this to AC power – the standard form of electricity for the National Grid.  The power is then stepped up to the required voltage and distributed to the grid through transformers at the onsite substation.  A generation meter records the amount of electricity generated and supplied to the grid and the owner of the solar farm is then paid for the power generated.

What other supporting infrastructure gets built alongside the panels?Reveal

Alongside solar panels, there will be:

  • Inverters/ transformer kiosks (the size of a small storage container). These are placed within the solar farm away from site boundaries/ public rights of way. These can also be painted to better blend into the landscape.
  • A transformer substation, typically with battery storage, connecting the solar farm to the grid.
  • Perimeter fencing with inward facing infra-red CCTV for security.
  • Space between panels for maintenance access.

How long do PV modules last?Reveal

The lifespan of solar panels is typically 40 years and for this reason, our standard lease term is 40 years.  Historically, lifespans have been 25 years but improvements in the manufacture of panels has enabled manufacturers to provide longer warranties, enabling permission to be sought for longer periods.

What is the construction time?Reveal

This depends on the size of the solar farm but for our typical multi-megawatt solar farms, the build process usually takes between three to six months.

Is there enough sunlight in the UK for PV solar installation?Reveal

Solar PV generation relies on diffused light (not just direct sunlight) to generate electricity. Power is generated even on a cloudy day in winter, just at a lower rate than bright summer days.

What happens to the panels at the end of their life?Reveal

Like any other electrical waste, solar panels need to be disposed of responsibly. In Europe over 70% of panel manufacturers take part in a global recycling network that helps producers meet the legal obligations of the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive legislation. As members of this initiative, producers are actively engaged in the sustainability of their product during manufacturing and throughout its lifespan. Components of the panels are broken down and recycled, not just disposed of. There are also similar systems in place for battery recycling.

Between manufacture and disposal are panels as green as they claim to be?Reveal

The benefits of reduced CO2 from generating electricity by solar panels outweighs the CO2 released from their manufacture within 2-5 years. Once the transportation, construction, operation, decommissioning and recycling is accounted for in a Life Cycle Analysis, it is estimated that a solar farm in the UK pays back the embodied energy in 10-15 years. This is sometimes called the ‘carbon payback’ time. Solar panels are predominantly made of materials that are widely recycled.

Where do you source your solar panels? Are there links to forced labour?Reveal

Exagen works with the EPCs and manufacturers to ensure that our supply chains are not associated with forced labour issues. Exagen has a zero tolerance approach to slavery and human trafficking. See our ESG page for further information.

Local Community Engagement

Will there be a benefit to the local community?Reveal

Our projects are designed not only to limit potential impacts to the local environment, but to enhance local amenites and provide a tangible benefit for the local community that outlasts the development . Following comments received during public consultation our team will work with our planning and environmental consultants to maximise the benefits of the land to members of the public. For example, this could be more accessible footpaths, new native planting, improved highway safety, provision of electric vehicle charging facilities and more. We take pride in providing enhanced environments for local residents and will listen to suggestions during the public consultation process to make the energy park something to be proud of and a real local asset. We seek to use our operational sites as educational facilities for local schools and training centres.

Will there be fencing around the site?Reveal

Yes, the solar farm will be provided with a perimeter deer fence, constructed of wooden poles and wire mesh to be in keeping with the rural surroundings. This fence is for security purposes and to prevent larger mammals accessing the electrical equipment (for their safety and to prevent damage). However, the fencing will include mammal gates at required locations to ensure that small mammals can continue to pass into and out of the solar farm once operational.

What about the wildlife which use the area?Reveal

We will undertake all the required ecological surveys of the site, in order to fully understand the wildlife which is present. The project will be designed to avoid any impact on the wildlife, and where this is not possible, mitigation and enhancement will be proposed to support wildlife. The limited access and interference on the site while it is operational, creates a haven for thriving wildlife habitats.

Will any trees or hedgerows be removed? Reveal

Tree and hedgerow removal will be avoided where possible and mature trees will only be removed when there is no alternative.  Existing access points and agricultural field accesses are used where they exist. However, in some instances, small sections of hedgerow will need to be removed to provide access between fields or adequate visibility at a new road junction. Any tree or vegetation removal is significantly compensated for by planting new trees and hedgerows, species rich grassland and wildflower areas. This creates further screening and enhances biodiversity, resulting in a significant net biodiversity gain for each project.

Biodiversity is a key focus for us. Our landscape mitigation plans and management of the field margins provides a habitat for pollinators and small birds and mammals. Amphibian habitats are retained and protected in existing hedges, ditches and ponds, and cuttings from around the site are used to make habitat piles for the benefit of invertebrates, small mammals and reptiles. Where there are local populations of barn owls, we provide opportunities for them to nest onsite and use our ecologists to advise on optimum locations for other bird and bat boxes in the more mature existing vegetation which remains unaffected by development.

What will happen to the public rights of way?Reveal

The Public Rights of Way which pass through the site will be retained in their current route and access will always remain available, although there may need to be some temporary closures or diversions to manage safety during construction. Footpaths and bridleways are a key countryside asset for many in the local community. We protect and enhance them with extended and improved hedges so they can continue to be enjoyed. Behind these hedges is typically a 5m gap before we have our fence, and our solar panels are then a further 4m inside this fence. So the solar panels are about 9-10m from the path itself.

How much noise will there be?Reveal

There is some noise generated on site during the construction stage – from the construction traffic and from installing and fixing the frame that supports the solar panels into the ground. However this is generally short term and can be managed through a Construction Environment Management Plan dictating hours of working and acceptable activities as well as listing points of contact for any neighbour concerns.

Once operational, the only items which generate any noise are the inverters and batteries, when these are included as part of the solar farm infrastructure. In order to make sure that noise levels are acceptable at sensitive locations, these items are positioned as far as possible from receptors. A full noise assessment will be included within the planning application submitted to the local planning authority, which will consider the background noise levels around the site and will be scrutinised by the Environmental Health Department. As you would expect of a solar farm, generation and operational activity is during the day when background noise levels are higher. Limited electricity is generated in the evenings/ at night, when background noise levels are lower.

Will the development cause flooding?Reveal

Generally we try to locate our projects in flood zone 1, which has the lowest risk of flooding. In the instance that developments are located in flood zones 2 or 3,  detailed flood modelling would be required to ensure all electrically sensitive equipment is located outside or above any modelled flood depths. In any case the solar farm will be designed to ensure that there is no increase in flood risk either on or off site.

Generally, once operational, there can be improvements in surface water drainage when compared to the agricultural land use baseline – the presence of established species rich grassland cover beneath the panels ensures better infiltration of water runoff than fields which are often left bare for long periods in between crops. The solar farm also has a very small impermeable footprint limited to concrete foundations for inverters, transformers, battery containers and the substation/ electrical switchgear kiosks. The panels are mounted on very narrow metal frames screwed or pushed into the ground and all new access tracks are of a permeable aggregate construction. Any surface water runoff will be conveyed and stored via rural sustainable drainage solutions, such as swales. A detailed site-specific flood risk assessment and surface water drainage strategy will be submitted as part of the planning application to the LPA.

Will there be traffic disruption to local residents?Reveal

During the construction and decommissioning phases there will be an increase in large vehicles used to deliver and remove equipment and materials. Specific consideration is given to select a route to site that minimises traffic on minor roads and through smaller villages and this will be publicised before a planning application is submitted. On average we anticipate an increase of between 5-10 HGV’s per day over a six month period. We use specialist transport consultants to ensure that impact is limited and that all potential effects on highways users are assessed and mitigated when necessary, such as by limiting movements during the school run or other peak times. Consultation will be undertaken with the local highways authority to agree the proposed access route to site as well as ensuring that safe access junctions with adequate visibility are provided.

During the operation of the solar farm, there will be a negligible increase in road traffic as solar farms are remotely operated and very easy to maintain with a small number of staff. Maintenance visits will be limited to around 20 a year and will be undertaken by transit van size vehicles and not HGVs.

Why are most solar farms built on agricultural land?Reveal

The UK has an ambitious target to provide all our electricity from low carbon sources by the year 2050 and solar generation is an important component of this, as part of a broad renewable energy mix. In order to achieve this goal, a large number of solar panels will be needed. The availability of roof spaces and brownfield sites is very limited, and therefore the use of sensitively located solar farms on agricultural land, where there is available grid connection capacity is imperative to provide a well- balanced and sustainable energy supply to the UK market. Solar farms have demonstrated over the last decade that they are a catalyst for significant improvement in biodiversity, natural habitat and soil recovery, and should be seen as an excellent opportunity to increase the quality of the UK’s farmland. They are also temporary developments and for their duration allow soil to improve by taking a rest from intensive agricultural practices.

Do solar panels produce glint and glare?Reveal

Solar panels are designed to absorb as much light as possible and not to reflect it, however sometimes glint can be produced as a direct reflection of the sun from the surface of the solar PV panel, and glare can occur as a source of bright light. Naturally occurring surfaces such as large water bodies are also much more reflective that a solar farm. Glint and glare needs to be assessed and managed – we do that by carrying out specialist assessments which involves the modelling of glint and glare effects on local receptors including residential properties, road and rail users and aviation receptors. Our solar farms are then designed so any impact is mitigated to acceptable levels.

Will there be lighting or CCTV?Reveal

The perimeter fence will have inward facing close circuit television (CCTV) cameras mounted on wooden poles on the inside of the perimeter fence. These will be motion activated and not recording all the time. Any triggering of the CCTV by breach of the perimeter fence by an intruder will be notified to the asset manager and security protocols will be triggered. These cameras will not capture footage outside the perimeter fence. The CCTV will also rely on infra red imaging rather than lighting so there would be no perimeter lighting on the solar farm. The only lighting will be limited to low level motion activated bulk head lights on the inverter, transformer, battery storage and electrical switchgear kiosks across the site. These will only be triggered when emergency maintenance visits are undertaken during the night, which are extremely infrequent.

Can solar farms affect health?Reveal

Solar farms are not known to pose any significant health dangers. Unlike fossil fuels they do not release pollutants into the atmosphere so there is no impact from emissions on human health. Replacing fossil fuel power stations with renewable energy alternatives like solar farms means there will be less emissions from fossil fuels in the atmosphere in the longer term.

Will battery containers be spaced in accordance with recommendations from sites which have had fires and explosions in the past?Reveal

Exagen are aware of specific battery fires that have been reported globally. Incorporating experiences and lessons from these fires is key to our designs, including the appropriate liaison with the local Fire Brigade. Our design team will follow Construction Design and Management 2015 (CDM) regulations and have in-depth involvement in the project to prevent fires and Health, Safety, Security and Environmental (HSSE) risks. The planning applications for projects involving battery storage will include an Outline Battery Safety Management Plan.

What onsite provisions will there be to tackle and control fires or explosions?Reveal

The planning applications for projects involving battery storage will include an Outline Battery Safety Management Plan which includes measures such as:

  • Separating transformers from adjacent structures and from each other by spatial separation or a firewall;
  • Automatic fire, gas and smoke detection within the battery containers.
  • Automatic fire suppression (e.g. sprinklers – water and/or gas based) within the battery containers.
  • Use of fire-resistant non-combustible materials/enclosures around the components.
  • Air ventilation and temperature control in battery containers to prevent overheating.
  • Regular maintenance and testing of battery storage system.
  • 24/7 remote control of the temperature of the components.