Minimising the impact of Solar Farms

Despite the controversy around the impact on the countryside and debates surrounding renewable energy subsidies, solar energy has been voted the most popular renewable energy resource in a recent survey carried out by the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change.

The solar industry has responded to criticism of the landscape ‘blight’ and drawn up a series of ‘best practice’ commitments of large scale ground arrays, including minimising their visual and environmental impact.  Clarkebond has played a key role in helping British Solar Renewables UK to successfully implement solar panel schemes at a number of sites in the UK in an environmentally friendly and sustainable way – particularly with regards to flood risk, pollution control and the approach to site drainage and the management of surface runoff.

Clarkebond and British Solar Renewables UK have consulted widely with the Environment Agency on solar panel schemes and as a result of discussions particularly with Environment Agency (SW office), developed a procedure to assess a site to identify potential risks factors which could contribute to surface runoff; the procedure involves a high level decision matrix to determine whether mitigation is required and the scope and scale of mitigation if required.One of these solar park schemes, a development of approximately 26.6 ha on a farm, in Tudeley, Kent, will include over 40,000 panels which will generate enough energy for 25 years and will power over 4,000 homes in the surrounding area.

Clarkebond was commissioned to provide a Flood Risk Assessment (FRA) to support the planning application and advised on how best to achieve sustainability objectives through the development layout. 

Particular attention was paid to using existing natural topographic features to manage surface water run-off and to leaving undisturbed all existing hedgerows, ponds, trees, ditches and wildlife.  Existing tracks were used to facilitate maintenance of the solar panels and a SUDS (Sustainable Urban Drainage System) was incorporated to minimise surface water run-off.   An innovative design of solar panels was recommended which comprised horizontal slots across the surface area of each panel to allow intercepted rainfall to drip through to the ground at regular intervals in contrast to conventional designs which normally intercept the rainfall and discharge as a concentrated flow at one end.  Clarkebond also had input into the layout of the panels including specifying the setback distances from watercourses and other hydrological features and easements from sewers.

Clarkebond’s flood risk assessment demonstrated that the development complied with the requirements of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPFF). This, along with Clarkebond’s advice on the development layout, innovation in solar panel design and use of appropriate Sustainable Drainage Systems (SUDS) features to manage surface runoff, was a significant factor in the success of the planning application for the development of this solar park

‘By working with a site’s natural features, and using our expertise and knowledge of innovative technology, we can support developments that are in harmony with the landscape and that satisfy planners, developers and neighbours alike.’   Max Thurgood, Clarkebond Director.