25 May 2022

Solar farms are the future of agriculture. The most profitable crop for landowners to develop is solar panels. With the world’s attention on lowering carbon emissions and achieving net zero by 2050, stocks for solar farms are going through the roof. The annual growth rate for solar energy has been around 50% for the last decade. With the government feeling the crunch to meet its 2030 and 2050 targets, solar farms are proving to be the best investment for the future.

While solar farming is relatively straightforward, there are common misconceptions about how this renewable energy source works. The UK intends to have half of its electricity coming from renewable sources, such as solar, by 2030. Landowners and developers are quickly investing in solar power as a clean and sustainable energy source.

We’re exploring everything you need to know about solar farming to decide if it’s the right investment for your property. You’ll also learn the factors that will determine whether your land is viable for solar farming.

What is Solar Farming?

A solar farm is made up of photovoltaic (PV) solar panels that work by absorbing the sun’s energy to convert into electricity and transport it to consumers and the National Grid. Solar farms are sometimes referred to as ‘solar parks’, depending on their size. Agriculture areas are ideal properties for solar farming as the optimum land is one with a south-facing slope or a flat surface. While solar panels can be installed on a roof, solar farming typically involves mounting them to the ground.

As a sustainable source of renewable energy, solar farming offers ‘clean energy’ as it does not produce by-products, including chemicals.

Utility-Scale and Community Solar Farms

There are two types of solar farms that you’ll typically find across the UK. Utility scale and community solar farms represent different opportunities and relate to the way that the energy is utilized.

1. Utility-Scale Solar Farms

The term ‘utility scale’ can be misleading. Most solar energy farms fall into this category – whether they’re several acres of solar panels or a small collection on a rooftop. The phrase ‘utility scale’ relates to the solar panels being connected to the National Grid, providing consumers with electricity. You will rarely find a solar farm that is not a utility-scale farm as it will have to be entirely disconnected from the National Grid.

Most developers and landowners will choose to connect the solar farm to the National Grid and utilize battery energy storage systems to sell excess energy. Typically, a utility-scale solar farm stretches for several acres across open land. You will usually find several thousand solar panels across the land to absorb energy and distribute it to battery energy storage systems.

Power lines allow the electricity to travel to the National Grid and be utilised by consumers during peak times to keep energy costs low. Most utility-scale solar powers operate with power purchase agreements with the National Grid – which will pay to utilise the energy from their battery energy storage systems. If you’re looking at converting your agricultural land to a solar farm for investment and to create passive income, you’ll want to explore utility-scale solar farming.

2. Community solar farms

The other category of solar farming is community solar farms that are typically smaller in scale. These solar farms exist to generate a smaller amount of energy to provide to local properties and businesses. Community solar farming is a project that multiple businesses may invest in to lower the cost of their electricity bills by using clean energy.

In these situations, solar panels are placed in an open area within the community that will provide optimum sunlight exposure. The energy produced is utilized in a regional electricity grid that is designed to adjust the cost of energy for local businesses and residents. 

This style of community solar farming is made possible through a system called ‘virtual net metering’ that works by crediting your energy bill for the electricity that the solar farm generations in relation to the energy load of your property.

Most solar farming projects across the UK don’t choose to utilise the community solar farming template. Unlike utility-scale solar farming, the community model works as a distributed generation resource that provides electricity for properties within the nearby area.

What makes utility-scale solar farming different is that it can travel for hundreds of miles across the National Grid. With the government’s focus on utilising green energy to meet its net zero target, most UK solar farms adopt the utility-scale model to create a passive income source by selling energy to the National Grid.

Determining If Your Land is Suitable for Solar Farming

Not every property is suitable for solar farming. Several factors will determine the viability of your land being converted for solar farming.

The irradiance of the land is how much sunlight the location gets, which will determine the optimum energy production of the solar farm. What affects the light that the panels will receive is the elevation and slope of the land, known as its topography.

After factor that will determine the viability of your solar farm is the proximity of the land to other dwellings and properties. Utility-scale farming will typically require at least several acres of land and can produce a significant glare from the panels that may be distributive for nearby dwellings.

The site’s capacity will determine the number of solar panels that can be installed to create optimum energy from the site. Your developer will also assess the best way to connect your solar farm to the National Grid and the best option for battery energy storage systems. Ideally, your property should be able to facilitate a battery storage system to prevent fluctuation.

Solar farming will require planning permission from your local authority. While your developer will oversee this, the classification of your land will determine whether or not your application will be successful. Your developer can usually advise on the viability of your land before getting approval.