Sunshine is possibly not what you first think of in terms of a renewable resource available within Wales, but despite the rain and wind that makes energy from water and wind so productive here, there are still plenty of solar pv opportunities for communities to exploit. The viability of a solar PV array is determined by three main factors; the amount of direct solar radiation the panels receive, the angle of elevation of the panels and the amount of shading at the site.
Solar PV panels operate best under direct sunlight, although they will still produce electricity in diffuse light conditions. Levels of solar irradiation vary considerably with the seasons, with the vast majority of direct irradiation received during summer. Solar radiation can be measured directly using a pyranometer, but a good estimate of the amount solar irradiation at your site can be obtained from published solar maps and Met Office data.
The optimum orientation of a PV array is between south-west and south-east, with a panel tilt of around 40 degrees. If your project is looking to establish a solar array on an existing building, you may be restricted in the angle and orientation of the panels. However, if your project is to set up a free-standing PV array, you have the chance to set your panels at the optimum angle to ensure they receive maximum levels of solar irradiation across the year.
There are a number of on line calculators available to help you calculate the best panel tilt and orientation for your project. You might also consider a control system that allows the panels to adjust to the track of the sun throughout the year, for optimum output. The ability to track the sun can improve energy outputs by up to 20%, but they also add a maintenance requirement to your project that will have to be taken into account when calculating the viability of your project.
The final consideration in terms of the siting of your project is to ensure that there is no significant shading affecting the site. This may be difficult in a built up environment where you are erecting panels on the roof of a community owned building. Similarly, free standing arrays tend to be situated in flatter areas, where there are no hills to cut down on the direct sunlight that the panels receive.
As with wind turbines, the presence of a solar array can be regarded as intrusive in the landscape, and consultation will be required to ensure that objections to your plans are kept to a minimum. As with all renewable energy schemes, securing land owner consent and getting your scheme through the planning process will be the major hurdle to the development of your project. Once this has been achieved, raising the necessary finance to install your scheme should be relatively easy.
More information on how you might fund your project can be found on our Funding page.
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