What is a solar farm? Costs, land needs more
Solar power is grabbing the attention of farmers and landowners across the country.
After all, solar is being hailed as the new ‘cash crop,’ offering far superior returns than traditional items like corn or soybeans. (Just Google ‘solar panels cash crop’ and you’ll see what I mean).
So, if you own a large piece of land should you be looking to harvest solar power on your property? And if yes, how should you go about starting one? We’ll tell you what exactly constitutes a solar farm, how much they cost, and how you would go about starting one.
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What is a solar farm?
Solar farms are large-scale, ground-mounted solar installations. They use photovoltaic (PV) panels or other means of collecting solar energy, like concentrating solar systems, to harness the sun’s power.
Solar farms are also known as ‘solar parks,’ ‘solar plants’ and ‘solar power stations.’ They operate as power plants, just like the fossil-fueled power plants that have generated electricity for consumers for the last century.
They’re different from rooftop solar systems and even commercial solar power systems in a number of important ways.
- Solar farms take advantage of economies of scale, meaning, by placing large orders for solar panels and other equipment, project developers can purchase the equipment for less.
- Solar power stations can also be located in a more ideal location that’s free from issues like shading from trees.
- Solar farms are decentralized and usually consist of ground-mounted solar panels, installed across large areas.
- In most cases, solar farms provide power to the electric grid and are part of the utility’s energy mix.
There are also different types of large solar projects, like community solar farms and utility-scale solar farms.
Different types of solar farms: Utility solar vs community solar
The biggest difference between utility-scale solar farms and community solar farms is scale: utility-scale solar farms tend to be much larger than community solar.
Utility-scale solar farms can have a capacity of anywhere between 1 MW to 2,000 MW. Community solar farms, on the other hand, are typically under 5 MW in size, and it’s not uncommon to find ones that are under 100 kW.
Another key difference between the two types of solar farm is who they provide their power to.
Community solar farm projects serve subscribers or members who have paid for a share of its power. Utility solar farms, on the other hand, serve the utility company and all of its customers as part of the energy mix it carries on its power lines.
Construction begins on largest solar farm in the U.S.
How much does a solar farm cost?
Solar farm installation costs are typically between
Starting a solar farm. key points to consider
Here are the top questions asked by those interested in starting a solar farm on their property:
How much land does a solar farm need?
With all the equipment and space between panel rows, a 1 MW solar farm typically needs 6–8 acres, according to GTM Research.
Be aware that with large solar projects, you don’t just need space for the solar arrays. Land is also required to house allied equipment like inverters, and space needs to be left between rows of solar panels for repair and maintenance access.
How long does it take to build a solar farm?
Depending on the size of the solar project and the number of people working on it, construction on a solar farm can be completed in a matter of months.
Siting and permitting, however, is a lot more complicated. It can take 3–5 years to get all the necessary approvals and contracts completed for a solar farm.
After a solar farm is complete and online, it needs little maintenance, and can be serviced about 3–4 times a year.
How much money can you make with a solar farm?
In terms of revenue, you can earn in the ballpark of 40,000 per year by selling the electricity from a 1 MW solar farm.
Here’s an explanation of how solar farms generate revenue.
Utility-scale solar farms sell their power by entering Purchase-Power Agreements for their generation on the wholesale electricity market. This can be done using electricity marketplaces such as LevelTen Energy.
According to LevelTen Energy’s P25 national index, in Q4 2021, solar power traded at 29.75 per MWh. The P25 index shows the 25th percentile of PPAs traded for less than this, while 75% traded for higher, and thus is a pretty conservative figure.
Based on the national average of four peak sun hours per day, we know that the average 1 MW solar farm would make 1,460 MWh per year. That means that the average 1 MW solar farm can expect an annual revenue of roughly 43,500 per year.
NEW SOLAR FARM IN THE USA: LUND HILL
These, of course, are just average figures. Your actual revenue can vary significantly based on factors such as solar power production in your area and the going rate for solar generation in the wholesale market.
over, do note that there are wide variations in PPA values based on the wholesale electricity in your Regional Transmission Organization area.
.89 to 450.01 per watt. That means that a 1 megawatt (MW) solar farm would cost between 890,000 and 450.01 million.
These figures are based on the SEIA’s average national cost figures in Q4 2021. They also assume that you already have the land to build the solar farm on.
Solar farms are much cheaper to build and operate than rooftop solar systems. SEIA stats show that residential solar panel systems — which are typically under 20 kW —cost 3.06 per watt.
In other words, the cost per watt for a solar farm is well under a third of the cost of installing residential solar power.
The low cost of solar farms is also why utilities are increasingly using solar farms when adding new power generation capacity. Solar isn’t just one of the cheapest sources of renewable energy, it’s now also competitive with fossil fuel energy sources, as well!
A 100 MW solar farm in Texas will mount panels directly on the ground
Startup Erthos says its “ earth-mount” approach can reduce utility-scale solar costs by up to 20 % by eliminating steel racking.
The 100.megawatt utility-scale solar project just announced by Erthos is not even close to the largest solar project currently being developed in the U.S., but it will be the only large solar farm with panels installed directly on the ground, without elevated steel racking or trackers.
Erthos signed an agreement with project developer Industrial Sun for the utility-scale solar project in Texas. It’s unlike any other big solar project ever deployed, using an approach that has the potential to take a bite out of the rising costs of solar installations, according to Erthos’ founders and funders.
Canary Media covered Erthos when it unstealthed in June 2021 and when it raised 17. 5 million in March of this year. The company’s system is unique, as we reported:
It’s a radical innovation that challenges a basic architectural tenet of utility-scale solar — and the 3 billion business of trackers and racking. By eliminating what it sees as “ a tremendous amount of unnecessary materials and risks,” Erthos claims it can build a solar power plant in half the time on one-third of the land, all while using 70 percent less cable and trenching.
Erthos contends that its design requires “ only light civil engineering,” with a system that can be used in different topographies with little need to grade, making it simpler to install than other systems.
Industrial Sun said that land constraints would have prevented the new project’s site from being developed with conventional solar technologies, which typically require five to 10 acres of land per megawatt of capacity. Erthos claims that its mounting scheme requires less than 2. 5 acres per megawatt.
While solar is the cheapest source of new energy generation, the price of installations is no longer falling. From 2010 to 2021. the levelized cost of installing utility-scale solar fell 88 % thanks to economies of scale, better technology and supply-chain improvements, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency. But in the last couple of years, supply-chain issues have halted these price declines globally, and tariffs have added costs in the U.S. Meanwhile, global commodities such as steel, aluminum and glass, which are increasing in price, now account for more of the cost of a solar panel. As a result, solar contract pricing is now rising in the U.S.
Erthos is bringing installation costs down by eliminating racking, which in the U.S. currently accounts for about 0. 15 per watt for a 100.megawatt system, according to a recent report from the Solar Energy Industries Association and Wood Mackenzie Power Renewables.
Ion Yadigaroglu of Capricorn Investment Group, which led Erthos’ financing round earlier this year, told Canary Media in March that he believes the company can lower large-scale solar installation costs by 20 percent by eliminating steel racking with its new structural approach.
A cost reduction of 20 percent in a mature industrial commodity market like solar is unheard of. If the Erthos approach is viable and financeable, it could be the step change the solar industry needs to maintain its torrid growth and continue replacing fossil fuel generation.
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Eric Wesoff is the editorial director at Canary Media.
What Is the World’s Largest Solar Power Plant?
The largest solar power plant in the world is the Bhadla Solar Park, which was completed in 2020. This solar thermal power plant is located in Bhadla in the Jodhpur district of Rajasthan, India. The Bhadla Solar Park is a 2.25GW solar photovoltaic power plant and the largest solar farm in the world, encompassing nearly 14,000 acres of land. The construction of Bhadla Solar Park cost an estimated 450.4 billion (98.5 billion Indian rupees). What are some Bhadla Solar Park benefits? Solar infrastructure projects such as the Bhadla Solar Park help reduce India’s dependence on imported fossil fuels. In rural areas, solar power provides a much more healthy, safe source of indoor lighting than kerosene. Additionally, solar power plants like the Bhadla Solar Park drive economic growth and job creation in surrounding areas. The renewable energy jobs sector is rapidly developing around the world; in 2020, the growth rate of the world’s renewable energy capacity jumped 45%. Solar power installations increased 23%.
The region where the Badla Solar Park was constructed is known for its solar-friendly high temperatures and sunny days; in fact, much of India enjoys around 300 sunny days per year, making it an ideal place for solar power plants. Solar power in India is rapidly developing, with many solar photovoltaic power plants being built across the country. As of March 2021, the installed capacity of solar power plants in India was 40 GW, but the National Institute of Solar Energy has assessed that the country’s solar potential is about 748 gigawatts! The National Solar Mission (a major initiative launched by the government of India with active participation from the U.S.) has set a goal of reaching 100 GW of installed solar thermal power plant capacity by 2022.
What Are the Largest Solar Farms in the World?
The top twenty biggest solar plants in the world are as follows, ranked by solar energy capacity:
- Bhadla Solar Park (Rajasthan, India) — 2,245 MW
- Huanghe Hydropower Golmud Solar Park (Golmud, Qinghai, China) — 2,200 MW
- Pavagada Solar Park (Karnataka, India) — 2,050 MW
- Benban Solar Park (Benban, Egypt) — 1,650 MW
- Tengger Desert Solar Park (Zhongwei, Ningxia, China) — 1,547 MW
- Noor Abu Dhabi (Sweihan, United Arab Emirates) — 1,177 MW
- Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park (Saih Al-Dahal, United Arab Emirates) — 1,013 MW
- Kurnool Ultra Mega Solar Park (Andhra Pradesh, India) — 1,000 MW
- Datong Solar Power Top Runner Base (Datong City, China) — 1,000 MW
- NP Kunta (Andhra Pradesh, India) — 978 MW
- Longyangxia Dam Solar Park (Gonghe County, Qinghai, China) — 850 MW
- Villanueva Solar Park (Viesca, Coahuila, Mexico) — 828 MW
- Copper Mountain Solar Facility (Boulder City, Nevada, United States) — 802 MW
- Mount Signal Solar Farm (Calexico, California, United States) — 794 MW
- Charanka Solar Park (Patan, Gujarat, India) — 790 MW
- Rewa Ultra Mega Solar (Rewa, Madhya Pradesh, India) — 750 MW
- Solar Star (I and II) (Rosamond, California, United States) — 747 MW
- Kamuthi Solar Power Project (Kamuthi, Tamil Nadu, India) — 648 MW
- Dau Tieng Solar Power Project (Tay Ninh Province, Vietnam) — 600 MW
- Desert Sunlight Solar Farm (Desert Center, California, United States) — 550 MW
Of course, size isn’t everything. The best solar power plant in the world is one that provides electricity to those in need while preserving the planet and reducing a country’s reliance on fossil fuels. With solar power initiatives gaining momentum worldwide, it is clear as day that solar power is the future. If you are interested in joining the solar power movement, check out the rebates and incentives available in the United States.
What Country Has the Most Solar Power?
Here are the top five countries that had the most solar power capacity as of 2019:
Of course, these numbers are influenced by the size and population of each country. To provide a more accurate perspective of countries that use the most solar energy, here are the top five countries with the most solar power capacity per capita:
- Australia — 637 W per capita
- Germany — 593 W per capita
- Japan — 498 W per capita
- Netherlands — 396 W per capita
- Belgium — 394 W per capita
Topaz and land-use
Topaz Solar Farm is situated on land that is non-prime for agriculture. It is previously tilled agricultural land that had limited productivity and was made less productive after a process of desertification. The Topaz renewable energy complex is found about six miles from the Carrizo Plain National Monument. Topaz has been designed with the land it’s on to be maintained as grassland habitat for native animals and plants. The planning for Topaz began in early 2011, and the last phase of construction was completed in November 2014.
The Topaz Solar Farm has been great for the local economy. Topaz provided around 400 construction jobs for the over three years that it was in development, which, combined, were worth more than 190 million to the local economy. Local suppliers earned around 50 million from the project.
Around 15 million in sales taxes were generated during the construction, and up to 400,000 a year in new property tax revenues are collected annually from the renewable energy project. The Topaz Solar Farm is now responsible for hundreds of jobs, both directly, with permanent jobs on the solar farm, and indirectly, with contractors to the solar farm.
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