Solar energy is the biggest driver of growth in the renewable energy sector, yet Ireland only has one solar farm supplying energy to the national grid. More power from the sun hits the earth in a single hour than people use in an entire year, so why are we not making better use of a resource such as solar farms?
Unfortunately, while solar farms are a great example of how technology can help us in the race against climate change, they do have some downsides.
In this article, we explore the benefits and drawbacks of solar farms, as well as the challenges of constructing them.
What exactly are solar farms?
A solar farm is a large-scale, ground-mounted solar installation that absorbs energy from the sun’s rays via photovoltaic (PV) solar panels.
Solar farms convert this energy into electricity and send it to the national grid for distribution and consumption by households and businesses across the country.
Ireland’s first solar farm opened in Wicklow in April 2022, and a further 66 solar energy projects were given the green light the following month.
How much energy do solar farms produce?
According to Conall Bolger, chief executive of the Irish Solar Energy Association, ‘Ireland has tremendous potential to deliver a significant amount of solar energy.’
In 2020, Teagasc published a fact sheet which states that in a typical solar farm, ‘each megawatt of a solar PV array would comprise approximately 4,000 panels spread over four to five acres and should generate 850-950,000kWh of electricity per annum, depending on the geographical location.’
The benefits of solar farms
The climate crisis is becoming more urgent by the day, with increasingly extreme weather conditions being witnessed around the world. The faster and more decisively we respond to this crisis, the better — yet less than 10% of each sector is currently using clean forms of energy in Ireland, with the vast majority still reliant on fossil fuels.
Solar farms offer a clean, renewable alternative to carbon-intensive fossil fuels, and they do not rely on human labour.
Here are some more benefits to consider:
Solar farms do not produce any greenhouse gases or water pollution making them very environmentally friendly.
Once installed, the PV panels are very easy to maintain and should last between 25 and 30 years. They simply need to be cleaned from time to time to maintain high levels of productivity.
There is little to no sound produced by a solar farm, meaning they will not disturb people or animals in the surrounding area.
Because we don’t need to worry about running out of solar energy any time soon, solar farms can greatly reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.
The more solar energy we use, the less we will rely on the earth’s finite supply of fossil fuels.
The drawbacks of solar farms
Solar farms are a fantastic way to take advantage of an abundant, renewable energy source — but they are not perfect.
Here are some of the drawbacks to consider:
Solar farms require lots of space
Solar farms require a huge surface area to generate sufficient levels of power.
However, this form of energy production is getting more efficient as technology advances, so in a few years, this may not be such an issue.
Solar energy production is less predictable than most other energy sources. Output levels fluctuate according to the seasons and even on a daily basis as the weather changes.
This lack of consistency is one of the major downsides of solar energy.
Storage can be costly
In order to supply energy to homes around the clock, the solar farm must have some form of storage capacity such as a battery. This allows excess energy to be stored and released overnight, but it can be expensive.
As an example, a Tesla Powerwall 2.0 battery is suitable for residential homes and can cost anywhere between €11,270 and €14,800.
Expensive upfront investment
Solar farms are extremely expensive to build and they generally only start to show a return on investment after a few years.
The challenges of constructing solar farms
Now that we’ve explored the pros and cons of solar farms, it’s time to look at the challenges they pose for construction companies.
According to Energy Sage, the cost to build a solar farm can be anywhere from $800,000 to over 1.3 million dollars.
Long, complex schedules
It can take up to 5 years or more for the construction of a solar farm to be completed, and the process requires extremely careful planning and lots of research.
It is crucial to take the time to choose a suitable piece of land and evaluate the potential impact on the surrounding environment.
In addition to taking up large amounts of land, solar farms traditionally have a very industrial look.
This means that not everyone will be happy about their installation, and construction companies are likely to face some backlash and protests from local people.
However, as technology continues to improve, we are seeing new panels that are lower to the ground and blend in more with the surrounding environment.
It is also worth noting that if effective steps are to be taken in the fight against climate change, people will just have to learn to live with solar farms around them.
Ground protection and temporary access solutions for solar farm construction
Solar farms may have some disadvantages, but there is no doubt that we are going to see more and more of them being constructed in Ireland over the next few years. Ground Protection Ireland offers two products that can help in the construction of solar farms:
Our aluminium trackway panels are used to create temporary roads that enable the heaviest industrial vehicles to safely navigate the most challenging environments — perfect for accessing fields and protecting the ground while installing solar panels.
Our heavy-duty TuffTrak mats are ideal for creating temporary roadways that can support up to 150 tonnes, even in soft, boggy conditions. They are particularly popular for projects in the construction, civil engineering and renewable energy sectors.
Ground Protection Ireland can offer businesses and developers the tools they need to build renewable sources of energy and help to get our planet right again.
Get in touch with our dedicated staff today to find out how our ground protection and temporary access solutions can help solar farms become a much-needed reality in Ireland.
Make sure to also check out our blog and resources for more industry-leading trends and insights!