The key advancement is the reduction of installation costs and increase in efficiency of the solar panels. The average installation is priced at around £600,000 per MW compared to £1.4m in 2011, and wholesale energy prices are still rising due to global political uncertainty. Add in the fact photovoltaics (PV) designed for commercial installation have improved to 20-25% efficiency and solar farms look even more appealing.
Two hectares of land are required to generate 1MW, with developers preferring larger sites which offer economies of scale. The ideal site is at least 40-80 hectares with nearby access to grid connection and grid capacity essential, and without special environmental designation.
The energy sector is one to keep an eye on as technology develops. Battery storage is one area where opportunities may arise, for example, in complimentary use with sunlight powered solar panels. The ability to store energy provides the control to maximise income. Sales to the grid will be targeted at peak hours of usage.
Typically, a specialist solar developer will take forward an application for a planning permission, for example, under the terms of an option to lease agreement. Here, landowners need to think carefully about who they partner with. There is not only maximising the rent obtained to consider, but costs to the landowner whether the developments occurs or not. And if successful, what happens down the line? Who is going to be responsible at the end of the lease for the clear up?
It is imperative that landowners select their partners wisely and take professional advice before signing on the bottom line if they are to retain control and protect themselves from unexpected costs.