With Derril Water Solar Park being the UK’s first shared solar park, where the power and the ownership is truly shared, we want to show you how this shared solar park will actually work. What will it be made of, and how do the different parts work together to generate green electricity?
The different parts of a solar park
The solar panels
Solar panels are made up of smaller units called solar cells. A typical 4 × 4-inch solar cell generates about 2 watts of electricity (less electricity than an average light bulb requires), so cells are usually combined in series to boost the voltage or in parallel to increase the current. A solar, or photovoltaic, module generally consists of interconnected cells laminated to glass within an aluminium frame. In turn, one or more of these modules may be wired and framed together to form a solar panel.
The steel frame structure
Solar panels are mounted on steel frames which are arranged in rows, with an approximate total height of between 2.5m and 3m. There is often a ground clearance of 0.8m below the base of the solar panels to allow for sheep grazing. In most cases, the steel frames are driven directly into the ground, to a depth of 1.5m using small piling rigs. This eliminates the need for concrete for minimal ground disturbance.
The energy inverters
Inverters are essential to a solar park, as they transform the energy from direct current (DC) to alternating current (AC). We want electricity to enter the grid as an alternating current as it’s easier to step up or down (increase or lower the voltage), and loses less energy along the way. The two main types of inverters are string/central inverters and micro inverters. For Derril Water Solar Park, we will be using string/central inverters.
String/central inverters work by connecting each solar panel together in series. The inverter combines all the direct current received from each individual solar panel and converts it all at once into alternating current.
How do the different parts connect together to generate electricity?
Solar cells are made out of crystallised silicon sandwiched between conductive layers. Elements added to the silicon form a negative layer, which has an excess of electrons, and a positive layer, which has extra spaces for electrons called holes.
When a light particle, called a photon, strikes the silicon cell with enough energy, an electron is displaced and leaves a hole. The negatively charged electron and positively charged hole are now free to move around the cell. Because of the positive-negative layers, the electrons can only move one way: the electron is drawn to the positive side, and the hole is drawn to the negative side.
The mobile electrons are then collected at the top of the cell by thin metal fingers, where they are transferred to the inverter. This is how we get the electricity.
How does the electricity enter the grid?
Immediately next to each inverter is a transformer that increases the AC voltage to that of the local grid. Each transformer on the site feeds into electrical switch gear that links the solar farm to the Distribution Network Operator’s (DNO) substation. From here, it enters the national grid.
Shared solar vs home solar
Home solar is a great option if you have the budget and the right living conditions (suitable roof, owned property etc.). However, we realise that this might not be accessible to everyone.
Thanks to the economies of scale, we estimate Ripple projects are around 65% cheaper than the upfront cost of installing rooftop solar panels. And, they are placed in optimum locations for maximum sunshine and efficiency. Just over 5 panels produces enough power for 100% of the average UK home. As the project is managed by Ripple, you won’t need to worry about the maintenance of the solar park, as all upkeep and insurance is included in your upfront cost.
If you already have rooftop solar, you can still own part of a shared solar park – your CO2 and energy savings will be the same whether you have home solar as well or not. They’ll just be in addition to your home solar savings too. As there’ll be more generation in the summer months, your savings will be extra high throughout this period. Owning a bit of a shared solar park is a perfect way to increase your generation from the sun without having to add any more panels to your roof.
It’s also worth thinking about adding wind farm ownership to your green energy portfolio. As wind farms generally generate more electricity in the winter months, your bill savings could be more even throughout the year. Have a look at our wind farm projects, Graig Fatha, and Kirk Hill.
Derril Water Solar Park
Derril Water Solar Park is the UK’s first shared solar park, where the ownership and the power are truly shared. It will span roughly 175 acres, and will have over 70,000 solar panels! This will produce enough electricity to power 14,000 homes, also saving 19,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions each year.
String/central inverters will be used, with the DNO just around the corner to optimise the efficiency of electricity entering the grid.
To ensure the preservation of the land, the solar park structure will be carried in accordance with the approved plans, with a height restriction of 2.8 metres. Less than 4% of the land will be physically occupied by the infrastructure, allowing sheep grazing to continue on over 96% of the site.
With generation set to start late summer 2024, you can have a look at the project updates for Derril Water Solar Park here.