During the operational lifespan of a solar farm there are many things to consider and put in place. You’ll need legal protection, finance preparation, and the right insurance policies in place to make it a success. But what are the main issues that clients could encounter? 

What are the main issues that clients encounter during the operational lifespan of a solar farm?

The main issues are those that deal with inverters and grid connections. The inverters are the only part of a solar panel that will need to be replaced during the project’s lifetime (around every 10-12 years). The modules themselves may also need to be cleaned if there is an extended period of dry weather, or if they are sited in areas with high bird populations. Some of the grid connections are constrained, and this can give rise to problems with overheating and/or thermal property issues. Changing funders’ requirements also often raise issues, as outlined in the Harvesting the sun – setting up solar farms

How is the price for generated energy controlled for solar farms?

The electricity generated by the project will be sold via the grid onto the wholesale electricity market via a power purchase agreement (PPA) or potentially via a PPA and a private wire connection (avoiding the grid entirely) to a site with a high electricity demand.

This can typically be a nearby industrial process or potentially an agricultural one. The price that can be achieved will vary depending on market conditions as well as seasonal factors.

What protections can clients put in place to ensure the ongoing viability of solar farms?

A good operations and maintenance contract with a reputable O&M provider is vital. The site will need to be run well and ideally a long term PPA should be secured. Proper insurance policies, including guaranteed performance, are important, as is inverter replacement and monitoring of panel degradation.

What can lawyers do to protect/assist throughout the lifespan of the project?

Lawyers with a specialist knowledge of the sector can provide valuable input and advice at every stage of a project. This can include guidance on:

  • project values
  • exclusivity agreements
  • options & leases
  • construction contracts
  • operation and maintenance (O&M) agreements
  • performance warranties
  • PPAs
  • planning guidance

Funders’ requirements tend to vary slightly but if the project documents are well drafted then less will be required during the lifespan of the projects in terms of any amendments funders may seek during finance/refinancing.

The oldest commercial solar park in this country to date is not yet 15 years old. The best way to ensure the project has a good lifespan is to make sure the documents are correct from the outset and that ongoing maintenance is thoroughly documented.

To date, problems that have arisen on constructed sites include:

  • trees falling (responsibility for the damage caused)
  • those which concern the electrical circuit – where it fails to generate as much electricity as was predicted (this is usually due to poor installation) or rarely, fires at the substation
  • problems with some of the site security, and
  • weather issues (i.e. flooding and reinstatement of the ground underneath the solar farm)

If you have any further enquiries regarding solar farms please feel free to contact our Energy Team.