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Old MacDonald had a Solar Farm

Jessica PirroMay 6, 20193070

When people think farms they normally think of pigs, cows, chickens and horses. But the solar industry is hoping to change that.

Solar power has seen a huge growth in the past ten years and solar farms have been a contributing factor to that.

What is a solar farm?

A solar farm is also known as a photovoltaic power station. The farms are typically a large decentralized solar array that supplies electricity to the power grid. Most of these arrays are owned by utilities and are just, more assets for the utility to supply power to properties in their coverage area.

Another way to explain solar farms would include other ground mounted solar arrays that are large enough to give power a lot of households. This could be associated with residential community solar and larger utility scale solar.

Community solar  

Community solar has soared since homeowners have realized that they can go solar without actually putting solar panels on their own roofs. Community solar projects, also referred to as a solar garden or roofless solar, is a solar power plant that gives electricity to more than one household.

Community solar array’s are usually large ground mount installations that span form one or more acres.

These solar gardens look a lot like utility scale solar farms. But they are usually a lot smaller in size. There are a few ways to get involved in community solar. Customers can either purchase a share of a solar garden and own that portion of the array.

Or they have the option of leasing energy from the solar system and basically use this lease to replace their monthly utility bill, typically the cost of your monthly utility bill will be more expensive than your solar lease payment.

The Cost

At the utility scale is usually at least 1 megawatt (MW) total, which makes the power plant capable of providing around 200 homes with solar power. The cost will vary based on a few things such as, location and available sunlight hours.

A typical solar farm will cost per watt for the solar installation. Usually at the utility scale they cost around $1 per watt. Since a utility systems is typically 1 megawatt, a utility solar install would cost $1 million.

That may sound very low when compared with a typical cost of a residential solar system, usually costing $3 to $4 per watt, that’s because it is. Just like other business, there is an economies of sale in effect in the solar industry.

The largest solar system

The worlds largest solar system is 1,447 Megwatts and can provide energy to hundreds of thousands of households. This solar farm is located in the Tengger Desert Solar Park in China and went live in 2016.

The massive power plants are more often referred to as solar farms than the smaller community solar ground mount arrays. The solar system that is installed at the Tengger Desert Solar Park, like most solar farms, is the size of entire towns which is how they got the name solar farm.

When referring to community solar systems they are more often referred to as solar gardens because they usually require a few acres and can be installed in someone’s backyard.

Everyone can benefit from solar farms

There is about 20% of solar homes that are considered unfit for residential solar panel installation in the United States. The reasons can vary from the rooftop or property not receiving enough sunlight daily, to the rooftop not being big enough to fit enough panels to power the house.

A community solar farm is a solution for those homeowners who want to go solar but their property isn’t a good fit. These farms help reduce emissions and limits the number of properties that need to be modified so that certain homeowners need to benefit form solar power.

Building solar farms

There are a few questions that should be asked before building a solar farm no matter if it’s a large solar farm or a small one.

  1. How many acres do I need for this exact size of a power plant.

A small solar farm only requires a few acres, where as a larger utility scale solar farm requires hundreds pf acres.

  1. How will electrical connection work?

You will need figure out if the location is close enough to power lines and the electrical panels are practical enough to connect your array to the power grid or to a centralized power source .

  1. How to clean and maintain the plant.

First you must asses if the property has a water source or cleaning options which will be a necessity to maintain the efficiency of a large amount of solar panels that are so near to the ground.

  1. How many panels are needed.

First you must figure out how many kilowatt hours of energy are needed and work backwards to figure out how many panels you will need.

Is community solar a good fit for me?

If you are considering solar power but your property isn’t ideal, you should look into community solar options in your area.

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