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Today, one of the largest solar farms in the UK opened. Matt Moore, Head of the SMG Wroughton Site explains more. 

Built at a former RAF airfield now owned by the Science Museum Group (SMG), the 88 acres of photovoltaic (PV) arrays will generate close to 50 GWh of energy each year. This is enough energy to power 15,400 homes, and is over three times the annual energy usage of our Museums in the SMG.

Digital Image of the Swindon Solar Farm when complete
Digital Image of the Swindon Solar Farm when complete

Who is building and operating the solar farm?

Public Power Solutions initially developed the scheme and secured planning permission (as project rights developer) in partnership with the SMG. The solar farm was granted planning consent in March 2015 and from December 2015 British Solar Renewables became the owner, developer and operator of the solar farm.

British Solar Renewables has connected over 380 megawatts (MW) of photovoltaic arrays in the UK, and for this project will be using Polycrystalline PV modules manufactured by Jetion Solar. As many components as possible have been sourced in UK to minimise the solar farm’s carbon footprint during construction and operation.

The solar farm contains multiple rows of arrays, each containing photovoltaic panels on a steel and aluminium framework like a giant Meccano set. For the UK, the panels are mounted at a 20 degree angle to optimise power output.

Arrays made up of modules, on steel ‘A’ frames set at 20 degrees
Arrays made up of modules, on steel ‘A’ frames set at 20 degrees

The electrical works for the solar farm are more complex. When running, the PV panels generate electricity, producing it as direct current (DC). This is transmitted via large DC cables to a central inverter station, where it is converted to AC (alternating current). This passes through a step-up transformer, which increases the voltage to 33,000V, ready for the electricity to be transported over the National Grid (and helping minimise transmission losses).

Pulling cables into the trenches
Pulling cables into the trenches

 

Remote monitoring systems have been installed to assess the farm’s performance and ensure faults can be identified and repaired as quickly as possible. Air and PV panel temperatures are monitored along with wind speed and light levels. This data can then be used to help determine the farm’s performance, measured as ratio between actual and theoretical performance.

The operation of a solar farm

Once operational, Swindon Solar Farm will require little attention beyond monitoring, maintenance and an occasional clean. The ground underneath the farm can provide a significant area of habitat for ground flora, for wildlife and for low-impact grazing.

Our aim is to help chalk-loving plants and in particular support native pollinating insects. The land under the farm will be managed by low-impact grazing and mowing over the 30-year lifespan of the array.

Native plants will colonise and thrive, bringing with them many other animals to become a buzzing, colourful haven for many under-threat species. Our site is part of the Marlborough Downs Space for Nature, a project that provides breathing spaces for wildlife on farms, and the solar farm will help contribute to the achievements of this project too.

Swindon Solar Farm will also set up a benefit fund for the local community, providing around £60,000 a year to help fund local projects.

Matt Moore is Head of the SMG Wroughton Site

Thanks to Merlin Douglas Johnson at BSR for support with this blog.

 

Solar Farm Stats

Item Purpose Metric
Piles Fixes the array to the ground 26,648 units
A frame assemblies Holds the PV Panels 13,324 units
PV Panel Coverts light to electrical energy 231,660 units
Direct current loom cable Takes the DC electricity from the panels to the combiner boxes 941,537 metres
Combiner boxes Collects multiple strings  from each array into one place 440 units
Direct Current (DC) cable Takes the electricity from the combiner boxes to the inverters 107,667 metres
Inverter stations Converts DC electricity to AC then passes through a step up transformer to raise the   voltage electricity ready to be supplied to the National Grid 25 units
High voltage cable Takes the electricity to the National Grid 19,894 metres
Earth cable

 

Ensures safety should a fault occur 18,565 m
Exothermic welds Joins the Earth cables together 932 of
Communication wires Takes information on each string and inverter to the central communications station 25,273 metres
Fibre optic cable Communicates monitoring data across long distances within  the solar farm 6,476 metres
Rows (arrays) Lines of complete arrays fixed to the ground 440
Crew on site (max) 300

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