Solar Farm Land Requirements: What Landowners Should Know
|Topic: solar projects
|Read Time: 10 mins
| Landowner type:
Independent landowners | Institutional landowners
Are you a landowner considering placing a renewable energy project on their land? If so, you might be searching for information on solar farm land requirements. It doesn’t matter whether you need clarification about acreage, are confused about agricultural grading, or are concerned over planning permission. We’ve got all the information you need right here.
With the government aiming to hit net-zero emission goals by 2050, renewable energy is becoming a major star on the UK stage. But it’s not just the climate that benefits from a surge in renewable energy projects.
For landowners, solar farms are an impressive source of income. In our experience, we’ve seen that they can pay dividends for the entire lifetime of a lease. And when you consider that an average lease can last up to 40 years? Well, it’s no surprise that landowners want a piece of the pie.
However, to host a solar project on your land, you must know what the current solar farm land requirements are. After all, you might have decent acreage. But you’ll need to consider everything from location to topography to get a project green-lit.
In this exploration into solar farm land requirements, we’ll examine everything you need to consider before talking to a developer. We’ll discuss the space you’ll need to lease your land and will even discuss Grid access and planning permission.
Now, let’s get right to it.
How Much Land Is Needed for a Solar Farm?
We’ll get into this in far more detail later in this article. But to give you a general idea of the suitability of your property, let’s talk about just how much land you need for a solar farm.
Generally, a solar farm requires around 25 acres of land for every 5 megawatts of installation capacity. Not all of this land will be usable for a project. So, developers tend to seek around 200 acres for a commercial-scale project to be on the safe side.
A minimum of 10 acres is considered the industry standard for smaller projects (around 1MW). You’ll also need to consider that panels should only cover part of the parcel area under planning regulations.
Don’t worry, though – much more on this point is yet to come.
Solar Farm Land Requirements: Is Your Property Suitable?
If you’re expanding your horizons as a landowner, you may wonder whether your property meets typical solar farm land requirements. As the average income for a project sits between £800 – £1200 per annum per acre, solar projects are becoming seriously popular. You may think decent acreage and excellent sunlight levels would be enough. However, finding suitable land for solar development is more complicated than that.
The ideal site for a solar farm will tick boxes for:
- Sunlight levels
- Land conditions
And everything in between.
If you’re considering leasing your land for a large-scale solar project, you’ll need to assess your property critically from the get-go. Now, let’s look more closely at typical solar farm land requirements to see how your property measures up.
Overall land size
The first thing you’ll want to consider before leasing your land and speaking to developers is overall land size. To developers, this is usually the overall “parcel of land” they’ll consider for a potential project. As we mentioned, you’ll usually need to offer around 5 acres of land per 1 megawatt capacity. If we consider this range, the average 5-megawatt solar farm would require around 25 acres of land.
The entire assigned acreage for a project won’t be used for panels. And this is because many local authorities won’t permit full coverage for a solar site. In addition to the panels, you’ll need plenty of space for inverters, storage batteries, maintenance equipment, and substations.
Conducting a complete site analysis and getting ACCURATE acreage readings for your site before diving into a project is essential. Luckily, any good developer will carefully assess your site before proposing an option agreement to secure the land.
Just so you’re aware, these acreage requirements can vary based on a few key factors, and these include:
- The overall efficiency of your panels: If you’re dealing with high-quality, commercial panels that produce more electricity per unit, you can often get away with fewer acres.
- Sun angles and spacing: Any solar project will require airflow and sunlight to operate efficiently. If your land is in an area with poorer sun angles, more spacing is needed to maximise irradiation captured by the panels. You’ll also need to consider how the panels might shade each other. If this is a concern, you’ll need more acreage to accommodate wider rows.
- ·Construction considerations and infrastructure: Most solar projects require access roads, substations, inverters, and buffer spacing that the local authority might outline. You’ll need to set aside more acreage to account for these things.
Condition of the land and topography
As with most wind power projects, developers only place solar farms on land that meets certain conditions. The land should be sturdy for solar projects and not fall foul to sinking from soft soil. But it’s also essential to consider the landscape for a site, as solar projects are particularly reliant on flat land without steep slopes.
Any more than 5% is typically considered less than ideal when it comes to sloping. Undulations can be dealt with if they’re slight. However, significant changes in gradient, northern-facing land, and steep slopes make your land less appealing to developers.
If you’re wondering why these conditions are in place, it’s because solar farms with long rows of panels tend to be most efficient. Not only does this help to reduce unwelcome shading on the panels, but maintaining them is far more straightforward. It’s also important that your land is located well outside a flood zone. This will help the developer avoid undue damage to the panels and keep the mounting structures stable.
Land in Flood Zones 1 and 2 aren’t technically out of the question. But they’ll usually only be accepted with design mitigations signed off by an expert. These changes usually involve additional planning measures that ensure any solar equipment used is robust and placed at a suitable elevation.
In our experience, land in a flood zone will usually be passed over by developers for more ideal sites. However, it’s worth conducting a flood risk assessment before approaching a developer. This will determine whether a solar project will advance past the initial discussion phases.
One of the major solar farm land requirements relates to agricultural grading, and the UK is split into five distinctive grades.
Grade 1 is the highest quality land, and Grade 5 is the lowest. In its most basic terms, this grading structure helps Local Authorities and landowners determine their land’s suitability for agricultural use.
Authorities rarely give Grade 1 land planning permission for solar projects as it produces excellent yields and is high-quality agricultural land. On the other hand, Grade 5 land is typically reserved for pasture or rough grazing and isn’t usually used for farming. The grade for solar projects is usually at three or below, allowing landowners to diversify their income streams without the use of top-notch land.
Although there’s been some pushback on using farmland for solar panels, it’s worth mentioning that farming minister Mark Spencer said in 2022:
“We shouldn’t be stopping farmers who want to diversify their income from doing that as that would be harmful, so I’d have no problem with them putting some solar panels down on 3b land. But we can’t then have thousands and thousands of acres taken away that could otherwise be used for food production. It has to be a balance.”Mark Spencer, Minister of State for Food, Farming and Fisheries of United Kingdom
However, this applies to land that is graded 3b or higher. If authorities increased restrictions to prevent building solar farms on 3a land, this would prevent solar farms from being built on 41% of land in the UK.
Most developers build solar farms on 3b land, which makes these comments a minor blow to the industry. But it’s worth noting that removing even a fraction of graded land can impact landowners who want to diversify their income streams.
So, it’s all food for thought.
A word on restricted land use
Before we move on, we thought we’d mention that land near the following areas is unlikely to be approved:
- Areas of Natural Beauty
- National Parks
- Ramsar Sites (Wetlands of International Significance)
- Special Areas of Conservation as established under the EU’s Habitats Directive
- Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI)
Before diving in headfirst, you must check whether your land has the proper legal status for development.
If your property meets the solar farm land requirements from a topographical and acreage standpoint, location is the next thing to consider. The main thing you’ll want to think about here is Grid connection.
If you already have a Grid connection to the property, you’ll be a handsome prospect to most developers. As setting up a connection to the Grid can take years (this is down to an enormous backlog), any developer will jump at the chance to skip this stage of the project process.
Although Grid connection is a primary consideration location-wise, you’ll also want to ensure you’re not too close to residential areas. Being close to residential spots won’t be a dealbreaker, but battery storage, inverters, and transformers can create low-level hums that might irritate your neighbours.
For this reason, we recommend discussing your plans with the local community and discussing options with your developer. This way, you won’t accidentally invite a barrage of criticism from those around you.
This is a more obvious solar farm land requirement, but adequate sunlight levels are KEY. The land should be stable enough to support the weight of panels without buckling, and the area needs to receive plenty of annual sunlight.
It’s no secret that the UK is hardly known for its sunshine, and London receives approximately 1460 hours of sunlight per year out of a possible 4383. Scotland fares even worse with its isolated areas, cloudy conditions, and poor access to the Grid. Looking more closely at these measurements, we’ll see that 66.7% of the UK’s daylight hours are cloudy, shady, or hazy. So, sunlight levels are one of the most important factors to consider before diving into a project headfirst. For some unlucky landowners, this may be the fatal sticking point.
To look at this more favourably, let’s analyse the locations of the UK’s largest solar farm: Llanwern in Newport. Newport averages approximately 2123.24 hours of sunshine yearly, considerably more than you’d find in London.
These rural areas are less likely to have high-rise buildings that might cast shade on solar panels. However, if turbines or trees surround you, consider your options carefully with a developer.
Proximity to existing solar sites
Being relatively close to an existing site can be a massive benefit if you want a solar farm on your land. This is a minor point of consideration for landowners, as the responsibility for securing planning permission lies with the developer. But if a site close to yours has already secured planning permission, subsequent projects are far more likely to go ahead.
It’s worth noting that significant solar developments wouldn’t fall under permitted development, so planning permission will always be a necessary hoop to jump through. However, do you have a successful site with a Grid connection and decent output that’s minutes from your property? If you do, it can significantly decrease the time it takes for planning permission.
My Land Meets the Solar Farm Land Requirements – What Should I Do Now?
If you’ve been approached by a developer and your land is suitable for solar development, you should expect to run through a checklist of steps. Although this might take a slightly different form, the typical chain of events runs as follows:
- A developer will carry out a simple desktop feasibility study to check a few of the parameters discussed above.
- The developer will then offer an option agreement that secures your land for a future solar project. The developer will seek planning permission and secure necessary permits during this period. This step doesn’t necessarily mean a project will be built, but the option acts as an exclusivity agreement.
- A developer will conduct a feasibility study on your property and confirm that it fits typical solar farm land requirements before going further.
- You’ll discuss a solar farm lease with your project developer and consult with experts to ensure that the terms suit you.
- The developer will check in with local communities and address their concerns about the project before construction begins.
- The developer will work to secure Grid connection agreements and may use this time to start talking to energy off-takers.
- At this point, the developer will order panels and other relevant materials. They’ll also hire a construction crew to set up mounting rods, secure the panels, and ensure the electrical systems work as they should.
- Once the project is operational, developers will secure relevant Power Purchase Agreements and off-takers from their initial discussions.
- The site will then move into maintenance mode, where a site operator may be hired to manage the day-to-day running of the project. If not, the developer will act as the site operator.
- At the end of the project’s life, the developer will decommission the panels and return the land to its previous state.
This checklist only gives you a brief overview of the process, but you can always check in with your developer if you need further clarification. A good developer will want to put your mind at ease throughout every stage of the project’s life.
What Are Landowners Typically Paid to Host a Solar Farm?
If you’re a landowner planning to lease your land for a solar project, site operators will pay you through a payment arrangement. You can choose from various options, but risk-averse landowners typically opt for a fixed payment arrangement. This guarantees a fixed amount of income every year and isn’t affected by the performance of a project. If you’re willing to take more risks and want to get involved with your project’s performance, a hybrid arrangement may work better.
Either way, the general industry quote for renting lands for solar farms is around £1000 per acre. With the average lease lasting between 25 and 30 years at minimum, it’s an excellent and reliable source of income for the project’s duration
We’ve got you covered if you’re looking to benchmark your site’s value (or aren’t sure what the fair going rate for your property would be). Offering comprehensive market data, our SiteStart(™) service pits your site against projects around the country to give you the cold, hard facts you’ll need to negotiate an excellent payment arrangement.
We hope this guide to solar farm land requirements has helped you determine the next step of your renewable energy journey.
As you can see, figuring out solar farm land requirements can be tricky. But with solid knowledge about your site’s topography, sunlight levels, and acreage, you’ll be in a great position to consult with a developer. You’ll be even closer to securing a great deal if you have a prior grid connection. If you still need to figure out the steps to take when hosting a solar project on your land, get in touch. Our experts will set you up with our state-of-the-art SiteStart(™) service to help you secure the best deal for leasing your land.
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