INTERESTED IN LEARNING MORE ABOUT SOLAR ENERGY?
Below is some basic information about solar energy, the development process, and links to additional resources.
WHAT IS A SOLAR FARM?
A solar farm is a large group of solar panels installed on the ground that operate together as a power plant. Solar panels, also known as photovoltaic panels, or “PV”, generate electricity from sunlight. Many solar panels are installed on the roofs of houses and other buildings, directly powering just those buildings. A solar farm, however, delivers large amounts of electricity to the existing high-voltage transmission system, which serves the entire region.
The solar panels in many solar farms are fixed in a position tilted toward the sun (in North America, this is to the south). The low end of these panels is usually a few feet off the ground and the high end typically between 8 to 10 feet off the ground. In some solar farms, the panels rotate slowly from east to west throughout the day, tracking the path of the sun.
WHY ARE SOLAR FARMS BEING CONSTRUCTED?
Several factors are spurring the development of solar farms. Solar panels produce “clean” energy—power with no air pollution, solid waste, or other environmental contaminants. Solar energy helps keep electricity prices stable because the amount of sunlight an area receives over time is relatively constant, and the price of the “fuel” is always zero. The large size of a ground-mounted solar farm also allows it to generate electricity at much lower costs than rooftop solar systems. Along with these advantages, recent technology improvements and stiff competition among panel manufacturers has dramatically reduced the cost of solar energy over the last few years. As a result, State leaders and electric utilities are interested in having more solar farms as part of their electric systems.
WHAT KIND OF LAND AND HOW MUCH IS NEEDED FOR A SOLAR FARM?
The best land for the installation of solar panels is clear, dry, relatively flat and has good soil. For these reasons, “tillable” land is often an excellent candidate to host a solar farm. The more ideal the land is for a solar farm, the less it will cost to build, making it more likely to be constructed. Many solar farms now being developed are designed to be able to generate 50 to 100 “megawatts” of electricity. (A “megawatt” is equal to 1 million watts, enough to power about 300 homes.) From 5 to 8 acres of land is needed to generate each megawatt, so the total land needed for these larger solar farms is about 250 to 800 acres. Usually several landowners host a single solar farm of this size, which can produce enough electricity to meet the needs of 15,000 to 30,000 homes.
ARE SOLAR FARMS SAFE?
Unlike other power plants, solar farms make excellent neighbors. Solar farms are entirely self-contained—they use no fuel and create no air or water pollution. Solar farms have few moving parts, make virtually no sound, and have no odor. Solar farms also have a low profile, about the same as corn fields just prior to harvest.
Solar farms include some high-voltage electrical equipment like the kind connected to large power lines and electrical substations. For safety reasons, and to protect the valuable equipment, solar farms are fenced and access is limited to operating personnel.