Are you aware that the energy the sun gives the earth in one hour could meet the energy needs of the whole world for a whole year? Ultimately, consumers and policymakers have two ways to deal with the energy economy. They can make the most of it or just do nothing at all.
If people understood the right use of this great energy source and its preservation, they could contribute greatly to the betterment of the entire world. This is where a solar panel farm comes into the picture. Let’s have a look at what is solar farming and what you need to know about it.
What Is a Solar Farm?
In order to harness the sun’s rays and convert them into usable power, solar panels are installed on unused plots of land to create a solar panel farm. Putting solar panels on one’s roof is a great way to generate enough electricity to meet one’s energy needs. However, large solar farms are constructed to generate enough energy to supply a wide range of buildings. Like fossil fuel power plants contribute to the electrical grid, solar panel farms do the same thing. In contrast to conventional power plants, solar farms do not produce any pollutants and require almost no water. Large commercial PV solar farms typically have hundreds or thousands of PV panels.
What Types of Solar Farms Are There?
Two primary categories of solar farms are distinguished by their scale and function. They are utility-scale solar farms and community-scale solar farms. It’s common for utility solar farms to be much larger than community solar farms. These systems’ capacities range from one megawatt (MW) to two gigawatts (GW). A 5 MW community solar farm is not unheard of, but it is common to find ones with fewer than 100 kW. A further distinction between the two solar panel farm types is the end users of the electricity produced. Clienteles that have purchased a “share” of the power produced by a community solar field receive their “share” directly from the farm. However, utility solar farms are integrated into the utility’s broader portfolio of energy sources.
We should start by saying that the term “utility scale” is not always accurate. Whether they consist of a few rooftop panels or an entire acre of solar panels, all solar energy projects are “on the grid” and contribute solar-generated electricity to the utility corporation. A solar power plant is not considered utility-scale until it is completely independent of the grid and does not have a power line leading to it. This is typically not the case. Utility-scale solar farms are those huge plots of land with solar panels that go as far as the eye can see. Many solar panels absorb the sun’s rays, turn them into usable electricity, and then transmit that energy via miles of high-voltage wires. Your home receives power from the grid via these power lines. The majority of these facilities rely on PPAs to generate and distribute electricity. This is when a business agrees to buy power from a utility or generator regularly and consistently for an extended period.
The other type comprises thousands of smaller solar panel fields, called “community solar” or “solar gardens” in the business world. These are comparatively small solar power facilities that generate approximately 5 MW of electricity for use by local businesses and residential areas. Every individual who participates in the program is given an equal amount of power. Those who invest in this solar project may experience a reduction in their monthly electricity costs. The amount of savings will be contingent on the area’s population and the amount of electricity generated.
How Does a Solar Farm Function?
Solar panels are able to transform the sunlight that hits them into a form of electricity that can be used. The photons of light that are emitted by the sun are what turn on the semiconductors that are embedded within the solar panels. The electricity that is created by these semiconductors can then be used. A solar field is a place where a lot of solar panels are set up close to each other to make a lot of electricity.
Panels are most commonly mounted using what are known as “single-axis tracking systems.” Solar panels are often mounted on poles facing north-to-south direction and have a level top. During the course of the day, the panels move in the opposite direction of the sun, from east to west. The equipment that goes into a solar farm includes items like racking, cables, solar panels, transformers, inverters, and sometimes even a power line or substation.
Utility Scale vs. Community Scale
Solar panels are put up in the part of the neighborhood that gets the most sun. This is a big, open area. The power generated by the sun is included in the distribution network that serves the entire region. Participants in the solar program will have different energy costs depending on how much energy their home makes. This is made feasible by a specific kind of technology known as “virtual net metering.”
If you have a community solar farm, your retail power provider should give you a bill credit for the amount of electricity produced by the solar field. This amount is based on how much electricity your house uses. Yet another difference between community solar and utility-scale solar is the use of distributed generation resources (DER).
A community solar farm generates enough electricity to supply nearby homes. This reduces the likelihood that they will go dark if the grid goes down. However, electricity generated at large-scale solar farms may travel many kilometers before reaching your home or office. At the end of the day, they each contribute in their own way to the success of the solar business.
What to Consider When Setting up a Solar Farm?
Here are a few things you need to think about while setting up a solar farm:
How big of an area does a solar farm take up?
According to the available data, a 1 MW solar farm would require 6–8 acres for the necessary infrastructure and spacing between the panels. When planning for a large solar installation, it’s important to remember that other factors are at play besides panel placement. Inverters and other necessary parts need a place to live, and the land is also needed for maintenance and restoration work to be done in the spaces between solar panel arrays. Some of the largest solar farms in the world are extended across 14,000 acres.
When is a solar farm most functional?
The time required to construct a solar field is proportional to the scale of the project and the number of people assigned to it. However, it is significantly more difficult to set up and obtain permission. It can take anywhere from three to five years to finalize all of the contracts and approvals necessary to build a solar farm. Once a solar farm is built and running, it only needs to be checked twice or three times a year to ensure everything is running smoothly.
How much income can be expected from a solar farm?
Earning $40,000 annual profits from selling the power generated by a 1 MW solar farm is feasible. Utility-scale solar farms can sell electricity on the extensive power market by entering into PPAs (Purchase-Power Agreements). Considering the average peak sun hours across the country, we can calculate that a 1 MW solar farm would ideally generate 1,460 MWh annually. This equates to an annual revenue of around $44,000 for a solar farm with a capacity of 1 MW. Of course, this is simply a rough estimate and could go up or down based on details like the amount of solar energy generated in your area and the cost of solar power on the market.
Positive Aspects of Solar Farming
Solar farms use the sun’s rays to generate electricity, which is then fed into regional and local power grids that are managed by public utilities. Solar farms are wired into these systems. They do not pose a threat to the natural world in any way. Because of this, the amount of fossil fuels used has gone down, which is good for the atmosphere’s surface.
Land or water are not harmed by solar power, either. Non-renewable fuels like oil are sometimes leaked or spilled. This really affects the soil, the plants, and the animals. Solar farms and PV panels never cause this kind of large-scale damage. PV systems have been used to power calculators and watches for a long time with little effect on health.
As we talk about the pros of solar farms, we need to define some terms. They aren’t “farms” in the sense that people raise animals or grow crops there. The PV modules use the sun’s energy to make electricity. Once they are set up, the modules don’t need much help or maintenance. Aside from being cleaned every six months, these units can run for more than twenty years without even being checked.
Once again, this fact is a clear help against the equipment used to get oil or petroleum gas out of the ground. Also, solar panels are easier to keep up than wind turbines, which are another popular renewable energy source. Once the modules are running, there isn’t much left to do. A farmer of crops or animals can dream of a day when they don’t have to work hard.
No noise pollution
The pros of solar farms can’t be properly weighed without considering noise pollution. Drills cause noise, as do pumps. Almost every step in the process of making fossil fuels is noisy. It is interesting to learn that an attempt to study and investigate how whales talk in 2013 had to be stopped because offshore drilling was making too much noise under the water. Some of the worst offenders are gas compressors.
Solar farms, however, let out at least a very low murmur. A buzzing noise is produced when direct power from PV panels is converted to the alternating current used by the grid. In fact, it’s so low that you can hear it if it’s fairly quiet outside the solar farm.
Sustainable in the long run
People who use electricity often like to know that its source capacity will be available not just now but also in the future. The time it takes for geological resources to come back to life is a big problem with relying on them. Some scientists think it might take more than 100,000 years for a gallon of oil to do this. The major pro of solar farms is that the sunlight keeps coming back every day.
With the help of solar farms, we will always have power unless the earth stops going around the sun. In fact, many research institutions and universities are putting solar farms on their grounds to help power them. Together with wind and hydroelectric power, these companies are cutting back on their use of oil and focusing on renewable and sustainable energy.
Breakdown of Costs and Profit
The typical size of a utility-scale solar farm is at least 1 megawatt, which is enough to supply electricity to around 200 average houses. Experts in the solar industry estimate that the cost per watt for a system of this scale is about $1. Where you live and how much sunlight you get will both play a role in determining your final solar farm cost.
If you want to build a solar farm with a capacity of 1 MW, you should expect to spend around $1,000,000 in total. This price seems unusually low compared to the average cost of residential solar, which is $3 to $4 per watt. The idea of “economies of scale” is in full swing in the solar industry. Also, you need to know that solar farm cost includes labor, materials, taxes, and other costs, such as fees for getting permits.
A commercial solar farm could also cost the same amount for everything. Equipment, shipping, taxes, and rebates add up to the system’s total cost. The cost of equipment depends on what you need. Shipping costs depend a lot on what you order and where you want it sent.
State and federal governments also sometimes offer rebates. The inspection and permitting processes for a new solar farm are often costly. This varies widely from region to region, but in most cases, you should expect to pay less than $1,000.
However, this can affect your ROI when you buy solar panels. In California, for example, the fees for systems smaller than 10kW are capped at $500. Some counties are exempt from this rule, so check with the right people first. In the cities of other states, like Colorado, prices vary, but the average is also around $500.
It’s important to remember that the landowner’s share of the solar installation earnings might vary greatly depending on factors like the size of the installation and the way the land is used. Profit per acre from a solar farm is about $21,250 to $42,500 per year. Solar farming has the potential to be highly profitable for some landowners. While 4 acres of usable land is the minimum needed for most solar systems, some solar farms span hundreds of acres and generate thousands of dollars annually.
Future of the Solar Industry
Government incentives, such as the Investment Tax Credit and consistent sunshine throughout the year, are credited with fueling the solar industry’s rapid expansion. Even though solar farms often need less maintenance than other ways to make energy, they can still have a big impact on the landscape around them. Vehicle access to various portions of a solar project typically requires the construction of service roads, for instance. This could involve the removal of valuable crops as well as trees and shrubs. Landowner insurance premiums, real estate taxes, and other property-related expenses are often split between whoever signs the lease and whoever owns the land. When the solar installation lease expires, it is crucial to discuss its future. Many landowners may want to restore their properties to their original condition, but doing it on their own would be prohibitively expensive.
Furthermore, you should be aware that solar panels typically lose between 0.5% and 1% of their power production annually due to normal wear and tear. It is important to keep in mind that a reliable manufacturer’s warranty will account for this degradation in a clear and explicit way and that a typical guarantee requires panels to maintain an output that is at least 80% of its initial levels after 25 years. So, a panel that produces 300 watts now will still provide at least 240 watts in 25 years. Some solar components, such as inverters, used to age quickly and require frequent replacement before the system could recoup its initial investment.
But solar panels have gotten a lot better in the past few years. This means that newer systems should pay for themselves long before they need to be replaced. Maintenance costs should be minimal, with a typical payback period of 5–10 years and a warranty lasting 10–25 years. Battery bank replacement might be costly for a solar system that is not connected to the utility grid. For emergency use, batteries have a lifespan of around 10 years. Heavy use can reduce it to 5 years or less when batteries are used daily in off-grid or grid-assisted systems. Since a battery’s life is directly related to how many deep discharge cycles it has been through, using it more will shorten its life.
Setting up the Solar Farm
It doesn’t matter if you want to build a solar farm with a 50 kW array, a 50 MW project, or something significantly bigger; there are a lot of considerations to be made in all of these cases. On the other hand, a massive solar farm the size of a utility could require hundreds of acres of land. When it comes to connecting your array to the grid, the proximity of the land to power lines and electrical panels is a very important consideration. If the property is not close enough, you will not be able to do so. You should also consider the availability of amenities like restrooms and washing machines. With the solar panels being situated so low to the ground, it is crucial to ensure their continued efficiency.
Calculate the number of solar panels you’ll need for your array depending on the amount of electricity, expressed in kilowatt-hours, which you believe you’ll be consuming over the course of a year. This will ensure that your solar farm is able to generate enough power. This value can be determined by knowing the solar panel production ratio for the region as well as the amount of energy that a solar panel array of a particular wattage will produce. It is also important to get a quote for the installation of solar panels that is affordable. Since estimates from different contractors are likely to be very different from each other, it is recommended that bids be gathered from a large number of businesses for larger arrays.
In the future, the renewable energy solution will encompass all the power alternatives currently being researched and efficiently implemented; this solution will replace the power generated by fossil fuels and provide clean energy to all parts of the world. As solar farm developers find new ways to lower the cost of financing and as the cost of equipment continues to decrease, large-scale solar farms will become more accessible to a wider range of people. In the not-too-distant future, you may expect to see a lot more solar farms and solar power plants, and possibly even ones that are much bigger.