23 December

Q&A: What are the key benefits of solar farms?

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Connecting with local communities is an inherent part of our project development process.

This means that we are in regular communication with diverse individuals about the scalability, suitability and effectivity of delivering our work. Within a recent project, we had a few questions concerning the use of solar farms vs. rooftop solar and how this would effect food security and the energy crisis. 

To address these concerns, Hugo Charteris (Project Developer) from our delivery team participated in a virtual Q&A sharing project insights and offering full transparency.

Solar farms are the answer to our energy crisis

Q. Why don’t more rooftops in the UK have solar fitted?

Hugo:  It’s complicated… there is a general feeling that domestic and commercial rooftops in the UK should be fitted with more solar, and I agree. I believe every new build should be required to have solar fitted on the roof as a matter of policy. It’s a travesty that more domestic rooftops and warehouses are not fitted with solar panels in the UK, and we hope that planning and building regulatory policy changes to correct this.

Q. I see, what about the available commercial roof space out there currently? 

Hugo: Despite there being significant areas of commercial roof space that could host solar, there are a few reasons why they might not – such as the infrastructure of these roofs as well as securing the rights. I’d like to tell you more about this. 

  • The infrastructure required to add solar to a roof can be very heavy. From the total weight of the panels, to mounting the frames – it all adds up. This means that many commercial rooftops are not strong enough to support a solar scheme. Most builders will not and are not obligated to make the roofs stronger than necessary due to cost; to facilitate this an entire new roof may be needed. To do this is both wasteful and prohibitively expensive.
  • Often, securing the rights to rooftops is not easy. Tracking down the owner and parties with interests and securing rights is very difficult and not straightforward. Some of the obstacles include: the warehouse being tenanted, the tenant could be managed by a management company, the warehouse could be owned by another entity, or it’s built with money from institutional investors or pension funds.

All of these parties would need to agree and accept the terms of the lease of the roof, as well as confirm that the project won’t impact on their existing use of the property. You can imagine the difficulty some may have in agreeing to this and the number of parties that would need to come together to deliver even one commercial roof project. It certainly can be done, but won’t be done in every case, unless legislated.

Q. And Hugo, what are your thoughts on current concerns around food security and solar?

Hugo: There are current concerns around solar and food security – however, I believe solar is not a threat to food security in the UK. To hit the ambitious net zero targets set, we need to develop ground mount schemes – the biggest threat to food security is climate change.

Q. Can you tell me about some of the other key benefits?

Hugo: Another key point is that in 2021, 8789 hectares – approx. 22,000 acres of land, were used in the UK for growing crops for biofuels. This is the equivalent land required for ≈5500MW of solar – enough to power 2.3 million UK homes. An electric car powered by this amount of solar would go 70 times further than a car powered by the same areas worth of biofuels. Solar is far better than biofuels as it is more efficient. It also enhances biodiversity, which aligns with our commitment at Exagen to increase a minimum 20% (that’s 10% above the government expectation). Solar farms also offer farmers and landowners diversification and stability of income.

Q. How much land is occupied by ground mount solar?

Hugo: Currently, ground mount solar occupies a very small area of UK land, about the amount that is used to grow Christmas trees. The UK Government energy security strategy announced in early 2022, set an ambitious target of 70GW by 2035 to hit net zero. 70GW is the equivalent of 1400 schemes of a similar size to our current project. This target of 70GW would require just 0.3% of the UK land area. This is the equivalent to around 0.5% of the land currently used for farming – roughly half of the space taken up by golf courses. Ideally, a mix of rooftop and green fields are needed to meet these high targets.

Q. Are there any positive effects on food security?

Hugo: I’m confident that by building solar, storage and wind farms, many benefits are delivered. The farmer sees a solid revenue into their business, (40 years usually), allowing them to invest in modern efficient farming methods and allow generations of farmers to keep farming. Also, food production in the UK is secured and we can benefit from lower ‘food miles’ and reduced food prices.

Q. Thanks for your sharing Hugo, any last comments?

Hugo: Overall, the benefits afforded by solar farms in ensuring low cost, secure, domestic energy production and the consequential positive effects on fuel poverty and cost of living far outweigh the minimal land it requires, and that’s before we consider the biodiversity, habitat and soil quality benefits that solar delivers in parallel. Perhaps I could tell you more about that next time. 

 

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