Solar Farms: How does it work?

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Solar farms have been quite rapidly mushrooming worldwide, especially in the US. You will find them in all shapes and sizes. From smaller solar farms powering small communities to larger farms that power thousands of households. Ever wondered why they’re so popular?

Simply put, a solar farm can save you from extensive electricity bills as well as protect the planet from dying. How? Before we get into the details of this, let’s first understand what even is a solar farm or a solar field. You will find all the necessary information at just a few scrolls!

What is a Solar Farm?

Solar farms are also known as “solar fields,” “solar parks,” or “solar power stations.”’ To understand solar farms, imagine a large field.  But instead of crops, it contains photovoltaic solar sheets. They are mounted on the ground directly under the sun.

Now, how solar farms work is also quite simple. In a solar farm, the large number of solar panels all function to trap the sun’s energy. This energy is then converted to cheap electricity, which is distributed for consumption by the people.

Further, the distribution of the harvested solar energy is through grids and not directly to the people in their homes. This makes these farms different from individual solar panels mounted on rooftops. Solar farms or solar projects can vary depending on the size and scale of the farm and the desired production level.

Solar Fields: The Different Types of Models

Solar farms have started to pop up in huge numbers in the United States of America and across the world. They can be summed up into two distinct categories:

–          Utility-Scale solar farms

–          Community solar farms

Utility-Scale Solar Power: Detailed Run through

Utility-scale solar projects comprise enormous land areas. These land areas host thousands and thousands of solar panels that stretch for miles. The large number of solar installations, consequently, generates a massive amount of energy. This energy is utilized as electricity. However, when it comes to distributing the solar energy, the “utility scale” idea becomes faulty.

The distribution of energy produced by utility-scale solar farms is through high voltage power lines and electricity grids. However, this kind of distribution is not unique to utility scale projects. Solar installations, whether isolated on a rooftop or spread across acres of land, are almost always connected to a power grid.

In any case, utility-scale solar fields typically rank among the largest solar farms in the world. They serve as an excellent substitute to fossil fuels. They are a reliable energy and electricity source. Additionally, one can utilize the clean energy at reasonable or even cheap prices.

Moreover, utility-scale projects for solar farms can usually produce 1 megawatt to 2,000 megawatts energy. As a result, a large utility-scale solar farm can potentially supply about 300,000 homes with electricity!

Community Solar Farms

As evident by the name, community solar farms are primarily for communities of people who all pitch in for their set up.  While Utility-scale solar projects are on a commercial solar farm level, community solar farms are much smaller both in their size and production.

Hence, such solar farms are only set up for small local communities or businesses. Their maximum production capacity is 5 megawatts. Given that community solar farms are set up by the people, the power created is distributed amongst them. As such, depending on your investment as well as the number of people sharing in it, electricity bills could be reduced to some extent.

Again, community solar farm’s function similar to how solar farms work on a utility-scale.  They involve a sufficiently large area with for the installation of solar panels. The panels trap sunlight in order to produce electric power. Through powerlines and a large grid, solar energy is distributed to the contributing houses. Based on the house size and electricity consumption, the bills are adjusted accordingly.

Finally, community solar projects are regarded as distributed energy. In sum, the energy produced is distributed among community houses within a close range. Consequently, the power supply remains undisturbed even if the grid malfunctions. In comparison, large scale utility plants produce energy that can travel for miles and miles. Basically, there are unique benefits to each model.

Utility-Scale Solar vs Community Solar Farms

There are a few key differences between the two kinds of solar projects. One obvious difference is in terms of the scale of the solar farms. Basically, utility solar farms are much larger in size compared to community solar farms. Accordingly, utility-scale and community solar projects have differing capacities for production.

While utility-scale designs usually produce 1 to 2,000 MG energy, community solar farms usually have a production capacity of under 5MW. You can even find ones that produce less than 100 KW of energy. Correspondingly, energy from utility solar farms can travel many miles through powerlines, whereas that is not feasible for community solar fields.

Additionally, Utility-scale solar farms often function as a commercial solar farm. However, community farms cannot function commercially. Therefore, they only serve to generate power for a few houses in a local community.

Finally, one last key difference is regarding the distribution of the energy generated by the solar fields. Community solar farms provide energy to people who have initially paid to have a share in the power produced. Cohntrarirly, utility solar farms disseminate their power into power lines. As such, they serve both the utility companies as well as their customers.

The Largest Solar Farms in the World

Keeping in mind the climate crisis on our heads and ever-increasing electricity bills, many nations have switched towards renewable energy options such as solar energy. The extent of producing renewable energy is expected to rise by 8%. Of this, the contribution of solar energy would be about 60%.

Today, China is the leading giant in generating energy through solar power. However, others are quickly following in these footsteps too! Here is a compilation of some of the largest solar farms in the world listed for the years 2021 and 2022.

  1. Bhadla – India

Installed capacity: 2245 Mega Watts

The largest solar farm in the world goes by the name of Bhadla. It spans across 14,000 acres of land. It’s found in Rajhistan’s Jodhapur district. This solar farm can generate about 2.25 gigawatts, which is extraordinary!

This enormous solar installation project features upward of 10 million solar panels. This required a capital expenditure of 1.3 billion dollars. Bhadla solar farm efficiently produces renewable electricity by harnessing the power of the Rajhistan desert’s glaring sunlight.

  1. Huanghe Hydropower Hainan Solar Park – China

Intsalled capacity: 2200 Mega Watts

The solar park, situated in the Qinghai province, is China’s largest solar installation project. The production capacity of 2.2 gigawatts is massive. This solar park project was initiated by the Huanghe Hydropower Development and costed around 2.3 billion dollars.

This solar farm, which became functional in 2020, is spread across 564 acres. Today, there are plans in the making to increase the park’s capacity to 10 Giga Watts.

  1. Pavagada Solar Park – India

Installed capacity: 2050 Mega Watts

Located in the Tumkur region of Karnataka, the Pavagada solar park spans an area of 13,000 acres easily. The humungous 2 billion dollar investment in this installation resulted in a massive production capacity of 2.05 Giga Watts.

As one of the top solar power plants in India, Pavagada produces 22% of the total power in Kartnataka.

  1. Benban Solar Park – Egypt

Installed capacity: 1650 mega Watts

Another one of the world’s largest solar farm, Benban Solar Park, is found in the Benban village of Aswan. It is home to the biggest solar farm in Africa – the Benban solar park. This gigantic complex of solar plants comprises a total of 41 solar plants with a total production capacity of 1.6 Giga Watts.

This solar facility, spanning 9,000 acres, powers a ginormous number of 4,20,000 houses at the moment.

  1. Tengger Desert Solar Park – China

Instaled capacity: 1547 Mega Watta

The 5th largest solar field in the world is found in Ningxia, China. The farm covers a land area of 1200 km2 in the Tengger desert. Owing to its sufficient production capacity of 1547 MW, it can power 600,000 houses.

Currently, the government in China is aiming to expand the size and capacity of the solar farm.

  1. Noor Abu Dhabi – United Arab Emirates

Installed capacity: 1,177 MW.

As a commercial solar farm the Noor Abu Dhabi facility has a production capacity of 1.2 Giga Watts. The solar field comprises 3.2 million solar panels and spans an area of 8 km. This particular solar farm has reduced carbon emissions by  1 million metric tons.

  1. Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park – UAE

Installed capacity: 1,013 MW

This facility has a capacity of 1013 MW. It is the 7th largest solar field in the world. However, the expansion of the production capacity to 5 Giga Watts is under way. Apart from a solar field, the facility also comprises a research and development center.

  1. Kurnool Ultra Mega Solar Park – India

Installed capacity: 1,000 MW

The Kurnool solar farm is located in the Andhra Pradesh region of India. It occupies a land area of 24 km2. The investment cost for this project was a round 980 million dollars. As such, it has a production capacity of 1 GW.

  1. Datong Solar Power – China

Installation capacity: 1,000 MW

Although the total capacity of the Datong Solar power facility for the long term is (expected to be) 3 GW, it is still under construction at the moment. Therefore, its current production capacity is 1.07 GW.

  1.  NP Kunta – India

Installation capacity: 978 MW

NP Kunta is also among the largest solar farms int he world. The solar field spans an area of 32 kilometers squares in the NP Kunta region of India. Similar to many other solar power projects, the NP Kunta solar facility is also up for expansion. The total capacity planned for the solar farm is 1,500 MW.

  1. Longyangxia Dam Salor Park – China

Installed capacity: 850 Mega Watts

Yet another example of a solar farm in China proves how far ahead China is compared to other countries in switching to renewable energy sources. The solar farm has been under expansion since 2013.

The initial production capacity of the farm was only 320 megawatts. However, now, that capacity has been increased to 850 megawatts, One interesting fact about this particular solar field is that it functions together with a hydroelectric power station.

  1.  Villanueva Solar Park – Mexico

Installed capacity: 828 Mega Watta

The lone entry from Mexico as a country investing in solar farms is undoubtedly impressive. The Vilannuela Solar Park in Villa Hidalgo, Coahuila, is located in the state’s northwest.

The solar farm has a capacity to produce 828 MW of energy.  Enel Green Power México was the entity responsible for developing this solar facility. The investment cost for this turned out to be $710 million.

  1.  Copper Mountain Solar Facility – United States

Installed capacity: 802 Mega Watts

It’s no surprise that the US is represented among the biggest solar farms globally. The largest solar PV facility in the US, with a capacity of 58 MW, is the Copper Mountain Solar Facility in Boulder City, Nevada.

Sempra Generation was responsible for the execution of this project. After the project wrapped up in March 2021, it once again held the distinction of the largest solar farm in the nation with an output of 802 MW.

Environmental Impacts of Solar Farms

Negative Impacts:

●   Energy Demand: The setting up of a solar farm requires a massive amount of energy and funding upfront. Manufacturing, transportation, and other such processes require energy that is dependent on fossil fuels.

This means that setting up this renewable alternative has an immense environmental cost. That is because all this energy used will be compensated for using coal, gas, and other fossil fuels.

●   Chemical Usage: There is heavy chemical usage in production and manufacturing. Many of these chemicals can be super dangerous. Hence, depending on the manufacturer, the disposal of the chemicals may be improper.

Companies looking to save cash by cutting corners may not spend as much time or money on proper chemical disposal. Therefore, such hazardous chemicals could easily contaminate water bodies, agricultural fields, the air, and cause many other environmental problems.

●   Recycling: Although so far there hasn’t been any recycling issue when it comes to disposing of any component of the solar panels, it could be a future issue. Countries with poor disposal and recycling programs may find it difficult to recycle the damaged corpses of solar panels.

●   Land Usage: Setting up solar fields requires a massive land area. Such massive land areas with adequate sunlight provide competition for agricultural fields or forests. Additionally, solar farms can not necessarily share land with agricultural fields. So, this might cause a decline in sufficient agricultural land, causing a food shortage.

●   Ecological Impact: The clearing of land for solar farms is a huge risk to ecological diversity. Not only does this have a negative impact on the vegetative life but also the wildlife. Where animals lose their habitat, the clearance of greenery and/agriculture can have an adverse environmental impact. This could be in terms of rainfall, drought, drainage, etc.

When it comes to setting up large solar farms, major concerns are associated. This is especially for commercial ones, such as utility-scale solar projects. So, despite their massive positive impact on the environment, the upfront cost of setting them up brings upon disastrous effects on the environment too!

Positive Impacts:

●   Reduction in greenhouse emissions: A solar farm does not necessarily have to be massive in order to have a positive environmental impact. Even small community solar farms are great for reducing carbon emissions.

If, for instance, solar energy is responsible for 80% of a household’s power consumption, it can reduce carbon emissions produced by burning 150,000 pounds of coal.

●   Water pollution: This is a more hidden yet crucial advantage of solar farms. The manufacturing and set up processes of solar farms require water. However, the amount of water needed to produce electricity through solar power is significantly less compared ot other production modes.

Using solar farms and solar energy, there is hardly any risk of using up all the water resources. There is an even lower risk of contaminating any water supply.

●   Reduction in dependency on finite resources: As a renewable energy source and a promising alternative, solar energy is great for eliminating our dependency on non-renewable energy sources. As such, setting up solar farms prevents us from a risky and expensive future with a lack of fossil fuels for energy.

●   Lack of maintenance: renewable energy alternatives such as solar farms are not only a long-term solution. In fact, they require minimal maintenance, making them a cheaper long-term solution. However, this excludes the hefty upfront cost. Although solar farm grants could help reduce the upfront cost.

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