A solar farm is a space that’s dedicated to a series of ground-mounted photovoltaic cells, which harness solar energy so that it can be converted into electricity and routed to the grid. Solar farms use the same technology as roof-mounted solar panels, but instead of several or a few dozen panels, solar farms use thousands of photovoltaic cells across a large coverage area.
Solar farm land requirements range from a minimum of 10 acres of flat, clear land that’s able to support rows of photovoltaic cell mounts to over 200 acres. Solar farms on the larger end of the range are usually reserved for utility-scale projects. In some cases, as few as five acres can suffice as a small, community-based solar farm.
One the of main considerations in using land for solar energy generation is the power potential for the location. On average, 100 square feet of space will typically accommodate 1Kw solar power production.
In general, the larger the solar farm, the greater the energy output and profitability. Owners of large areas of useable land have increasingly taken the opportunity to generate ample power for their own needs, but also gain profit by leasing their space to solar farm developers. Some farmers, ranchers, and growers have even made use of solar fields, which combine growing and grazing land use with energy production.
But, a solar farm has some limitations, which can affect land owners who may be considering a solar field for their own land, as well as solar projects for large-scale, utility purposes.
What Are The Pros And Cons Of Solar Farms?
Solar farms offer distinct advantages over other types of sustainable energy harnessing. While wind turbines and hydroelectric dams require very specific placement for adequate energy yield, the sun’s rays are widely accessible. Solar farms are also comparatively low maintenance, quiet, and low profile, which means they don’t interfere with skylines in the same way as wind farms nor do they require lasting or permanent disturbance of natural terrain like dams.
Solar farm jobs, such as panel installers and maintenance technicians, have also created new opportunities anywhere large scale projects are installed.
Solar farms, however, do have some limitations and drawbacks. Many of the minerals and materials required to manufacture photovoltaic cells are non-renewable. Acquiring the cadmium telluride and copper indium gallium diselenide needed to make numerous and highly productive solar cells is environmentally destructive and resource intensive.
The power generation potential of solar farms is limited by the number of peak sunlight hours and cloud cover. High temperatures can also interfere with photovoltaic cell efficiency. Although not inherent to the photovoltaic themselves, the expense and resource demands of lithium-ion battery packs needed to store solar energy compound these issues.
Solar Farm Considerations For Land Owners
For land owners who can offer the acreage for lease, a solar farm can earn tens of thousands of dollars each year or a profit margin between 10 and 20 percent. A 1 Mw solar farm that’s producing 1460 MWh per year would generate about $43,000. While the prospect of making open land profitable might be attractive to anyone who has the means, there are a few things to consider.
To be considered by solar developers, a site needs to meet certain standards. The terrain of a solar farm is important. Ground-mounted photovoltaic cells require land that is stable, flat, free from major obstructions, and not prone to flooding. The land itself must be easy to maintain to ensure that weeds and natural debris do not interfere with the photovoltaic cells and mount hardware.
Access to infrastructure for regular panel maintenance and grid interconnection availability are also requirements. Additionally, local laws could determine whether a site is legally permitted to be used as a solar farm or if such projects are restricted.