With the revolutionary idea that is converting countless acres of land into profitable powerhouses, solar farms, you can enter the future of farming. In an era where sustainability meets profitability, solar power has emerged as the new ‘cash crop,’ captivating the attention of farmers and landowners nationwide.
Beyond the traditional realms of corn and soybeans, solar farms promise superior returns and a greener tomorrow. But what does it really take to turn your land into a solar haven?
From understanding the essentials of solar farms to unraveling the price involved, we’re here to guide you through every aspect of this eco-conscious revolution.
Get ready to explore the world of solar farms, discover the need for land, delve into the costs, and embark on a journey towards a sustainable future.
What is a solar farm?
Large-scale, ground-mounted solar arrays are called solar farms. To harness the power of the sun, they employ photovoltaic (PV) panels or other methods of solar energy collection, such as concentrating solar systems.
Other names for solar farms include “solar parks,” “solar plants,” and “solar power stations.” Similar to the fossil fuel power plants that have been supplying consumers with electricity for the past century, they function as power plants.
They differ from rooftop solar systems and even industrial solar power systems in a number of key respects.
- By placing bulk orders for solar panels and other equipment, project developers can lower the cost of the equipment for solar farms by taking advantage of economies of scale.
- Additionally, solar power plants can be positioned in a better area free from obstructions like tree shade.
- Decentralized solar farms typically consist of ground-mounted solar panels spread out over huge areas.
- By supplying electricity to the electric grid, solar farms frequently add to the utility’s energy mix.
What are the various styles of solar farms?
Solar farms come in various styles and configurations, each designed to maximize energy production based on specific environmental and spatial considerations. Here are some of the common styles of solar farms:
Utility Solar Farm
A utility solar farm, also known as a solar power plant or solar photovoltaic (PV) farm, is a large-scale facility that generates electricity by harnessing solar energy from the sun. Unlike small-scale residential or commercial solar installations, utility solar farms are designed to provide power to the grid on a significant scale. These solar farms typically consist of thousands to millions of solar panels spread over vast areas of land.
Community Solar Farms
Also known as solar gardens or shared solar projects, these farms allow multiple individuals or businesses to invest in or subscribe to a portion of the solar farm’s production. Participants receive credits on their electricity bills based on their share of the generated power. Community solar farms make renewable energy accessible to people who cannot install solar panels on their own properties.
Fixed-Tilt Solar Farms
These solar farms consist of solar panels that are fixed at a specific tilt angle, optimized for the location’s latitude. While they don’t move to track the sun’s movement, they are cost-effective and easier to install and maintain.
Single-Axis Tracking Solar Farms
Solar panels in these farms are mounted on a single axis, allowing them to follow the sun’s east-west movement throughout the day. This tracking increases energy output by capturing more sunlight, making them more efficient than fixed-tilt systems.
Dual-Axis Tracking Solar Farms
These solar farms use panels mounted on two axes, allowing them to move both horizontally and vertically. Dual-axis tracking systems can fully optimize the angle of the panels to the sun, capturing maximum sunlight throughout the day. While these systems are the most efficient, they are also the most expensive to install and maintain.
Floating Solar Farms
Instead of being installed on land, solar panels are mounted on floating platforms on water bodies such as ponds, lakes, or reservoirs. Floating solar farms are beneficial for conserving land, reducing water evaporation, and cooling the solar panels, which can enhance their efficiency.
Building-Integrated Solar Farms
Solar panels are integrated into the design of buildings, serving dual purposes as both energy generators and architectural elements. These solar farms are commonly found on rooftops, facades, or as solar awnings. They are ideal for urban areas where land space is limited.
Off-Grid Solar Farms
These solar farms are designed to operate independently of the electricity grid. They are equipped with energy storage systems such as batteries, allowing them to store excess energy generated during the day for use during periods of low sunlight or at night. Off-grid solar farms are common in remote areas or locations where connecting to the grid is impractical or expensive.
The choice of the solar farm style depends on factors such as available space, budget, energy requirements, and environmental considerations specific to the location where the solar farm is being planned.
Difference Between Utility Solar And Community Solar
Utility-scale solar farms often have a greater physical footprint than community solar farms, which is the main distinction between the two types of solar farms.
Utility-scale solar farms have a capacity that can range from 1 MW to 2,000 MW. On the other side, community solar farms are often smaller—around 5 MW, and it’s not unusual to find ones that are under 100 kW.
Who receives the power from the two types of solar farms is a significant additional distinction.
Community solar farm projects provide electricity to members or subscribers who have paid for a portion of it. On the other hand, utility solar farms are used by the utility company and all of its clients as a component of the energy mix it transports over its power lines.
What is the cost of a solar farm?
Installation expenses for solar farms typically range from $0.89 to $1.01 per watt. Accordingly, the price of a 1 megawatt (MW) solar farm would range from $890,000 to $1,01 million.
These numbers are based on the SEIA’s Q4 2021 average national cost data. Additionally, they presume that you already own the property needed to construct the solar farm.
Solar farms often cost more to build and maintain than rooftop solar systems. Residential solar panel systems, which are typically under 20 kW, cost $3.06 per watt, according to SEIA statistics.
In other words, the price per watt for a solar farm is far lower than the price of installing solar energy for homes.
In order to increase their capacity for power generation, utilities are increasingly turning to solar farms due to their low cost. In addition to being one of the most affordable sources of renewable energy, solar power is now equally affordable to sources of electricity derived from fossil fuels.
Image source: Solar Energy Industries Association
Key factors to think about before starting a solar farm
The following are the most frequent queries from people considering setting up a solar farm on their property:
How much land is required for a solar farm?
According to GTM Research now Wood Mackenzie, a 1 MW solar farm typically requires 6–8 acres to accommodate all the necessary infrastructure and space between panel rows.
Be aware that you require more area for huge solar installations than just the solar arrays themselves. Additionally, land is needed to house auxiliary devices like inverters, and room must be provided between solar panel rows to allow for access for repairs and maintenance.
How much time is required to construct a solar farm?
Construction of a solar farm can be finished in a few months, depending on the scale of the project and the amount of people working on it.
However, sitting and permitting are far more difficult. To complete all the necessary contracts and approvals for a solar farm, it can take three to five years. Once built and operational, a solar farm requires little upkeep and only needs to be repaired three to four times each year.
How much money can a solar farm produce?
Selling the electricity from a 1 MW solar farm can bring in roughly $40,000 per year in revenue.
Here is a description of how solar farms make money:
Utility-scale solar farms exchange Purchase-Power Agreements for the sale of the electricity they generate on the wholesale electricity market. Electricity marketplaces like LevelTen Energy can be used for this.
Solar energy traded at a price of $29.75 per MWh in Q4 2021, according to LevelTen Energy’s P25 national index. The P25 index, which represents the 25% of PPAs that traded for less than this while 75% traded for more, is a fairly conservative estimate.
We know that the typical 1 MW solar farm would produce 1,460 MWh per year based on the national average of four peak sun hours each day. As a result, the typical 1 MW solar farm can anticipate yearly revenues of about $43,500.
Of course, they are simply average numbers. Based on variables like local solar power production and the going rate for solar energy in the wholesale market, your actual revenue may differ dramatically from these estimates.
Additionally, keep in mind that PPA values vary greatly depending on the wholesale electricity costs in your Regional Transmission Organisation region.
How much do leases for solar farms pay?
According to the biggest solar land lease, landowners who rent out their property for a solar farm can make between $250 and $3,000 per acre a year.
This is a choice for those who would rather lend their property to a third-party solar developer than construct their own solar farm.
You might be asking why the range of leasing fees is so wide. It’s because there are numerous variables dependent on your location that might impact the going rate for a land lease, some of which are as follows:
- The cost of land in your location
- Infrastructure for electricity transmission close to your property
- Alternative uses for your land, such as potential agricultural farm revenue
- Demand in your state for renewable energy
- State and local government subsidies for owners of solar farms.
In other words, how much money you may make by renting out your property for a solar farm largely relies on the local market.
The average length of an agreement is between 15 and 20 years, with potential for extensions of up to 50 years. In order to adjust for inflation, they additionally offer annual escalators of 1.5 to 2.5%.
Some developers even offer to make a sizable advance payment to cover the lease costs.
Traditional farms are combined with solar farms in agrivoltaics.
Agrivoltaics, sometimes referred to as solar sharing, involves using the same piece of land for solar and agricultural development.
Crops are typically grown beneath or in between the rows of solar panels in a conventional agrivoltaic solar system, which comprises of ground-mounted solar arrays. The panels can be mounted on structures that are tall enough for farming machinery to pass underneath.
It might not seem logical at first to grow food next to solar panels. Plants require light to survive, after all. Yes, however contrary to popular belief, many crops don’t require as much sun. In actuality, too much sun exposure might be harmful. Agrivoltaic systems can be created to help crops receive the right quantity of light to flourish without letting too much light through and stressing the plants.
Agrivoltaics are popular among farmers for the following reasons:
Image source: MAMMOTH NORTH SOLAR – Doral Renewables LLC
Lowers the cost of power
Since energy accounts for between 1% and 6% of the average farm’s overall running expenditures, saving money by producing your own solar power can be substantial.
Reduce water use
A plant’s light saturation point is the point at which sunshine no longer promotes growth but instead causes stress and raises water consumption. Agrivoltaic systems that are properly constructed can reduce the need for water and prevent plant stress.
Increased crop production
Crops of all kinds can flourish and frequently grow more effectively under the shadow provided by solar panels. Tomato plants with Agrivoltaic systems produced twice as much fruit as those in a control group without solar panels, according to a University of Arizona study. Other plants, like lettuce and jalapenos, produced the same amount of fruit while using a lot less water.
Farmers’ several sources of income
Farmers should have multiple sources of income because farming has become more and more difficult over time. Farmers can have a second source of revenue besides their crops with the help of initiatives like virtual net metering and solar renewable energy credit markets, which don’t require a lot of extra work.
Which solar farms are the largest?
Solar farms are currently having a good time in the sun, without a pun. Thanks to the increased economics of solar energy generation and the ambition of governments to transition to renewable energy to prevent climate change, the solar industry is constructing ever-larger solar farms.
The largest solar fam facility in the United State
The largest solar farm in the US at the moment is the Copper Mountain Solar project in Eldorado Valley, Nevada. 816 MW is the total installed capacity.
It began as an 86MW project in 2010 and has subsequently undergone four more expansions. The newest expansion, a 250 MW unit that began operating in March 2021, assisted Copper Mountain in surpassing the California-based Solar Star project as the nation’s largest solar installation.
The largest solar farm in the US will be called Mammoth
In northern Indiana, a $1.5 billion project called Mammoth Solar is now being built. When finished, it will have a 1,650 MW total energy generation capacity, which is twice as large as Copper Mountain, the largest solar farm in the US at the moment.
The appropriately called Mammoth Solar Project will feature around 2.85 million solar panels spread across a surface area of 13,000 acres. In 2024, the project is expected to be completed and fully operating.
The world’s largest solar farm
The Bhadla Solar Park in India’s Rajasthan desert is the largest solar farm in the world as of March 2022.
The solar farm spans a sizable 14,000-acre area. It is capable of producing 2.2 gigawatts, or 2,245 MW, of energy.
It has over three times the capacity of Copper Mountain, currently the largest solar farm in the United States.
What is the future of solar farm?
In the ever-evolving landscape of renewable energy, solar farms are poised to play a pivotal role in reshaping the way we power our world. With the rise of community solar projects, utility-scale initiatives, and the integration of solar technology into our rooftops, the United States is on a steadfast journey toward a cleaner, more sustainable energy future.
What’s even more promising is the trajectory ahead: large-scale solar farms are becoming increasingly affordable as innovative developers find ingenious ways to lower financing and equipment costs. This ongoing trend not only makes solar energy more accessible to communities but also paves the way for even more expansive solar farms on the horizon.
As we bid farewell to fossil fuel dependency, the proliferation of solar farms stands as a testament to our commitment to environmental preservation and a greener tomorrow. Brace yourselves for a future adorned with vast solar fields, capturing the sun’s energy and illuminating our path toward a cleaner, brighter, and more sustainable world. The sun, it seems, is shining not just in the sky but also in our energy landscape, promising a future powered by the brilliance of solar innovation.”