What is a solar farm?
Solar farms (sometimes known as solar parks or solar fields) are the large-scale application of solar photovoltaic (PV) panels to generate green, clean electricity at scale, usually to feed into the grid.
Solar farms can cover anything between 1 acre and 100 acres, and are usually developed in rural areas. Solar farms go through a rigorous planning procedure before they are approved. This takes into account the suitability of the specific site, any potential impact on the area and relevant renewable energy targets.
About 5 acres of land per MW for solar PV (crystalline) is required. It is assumed at 4-5 acres for crystalline silicon (c-Si) technology and 7-8 acres per MW for thin-film solar (a-Si or CdTe) technology. In reality, it depends on other parameters like the cost of land, ground coverage ratio and choice of sun tracking systems (with sun trackers, the land required is only about 6 acres per MW for crystalline solar modules).
Factors deciding the suitability of land for the setting up of a solar farm
- Quality of terrain – Sloped land, excessively rocky or sandy terrain, uneven land etc can all significantly add to the cost of installing a solar farm. Degree of forest clearing or tree removal must be low.
- Local weathering factors – Desert conditions often coincide with excessive dust fall, flooding and flash flooding, high erosion etc, and these can limit the viability of a site and in many cases can make a site non-viable.
- Proximity to Grid connection- One of the biggest hidden costs of a solar farm is the distance required to connect a grid and it is advised to keep it within 1km of existing distribution lines
- Local Transmission Capacity – Careful study must be done if the power grids will be able to handle the excess capacity that a solar farm would introduce.
- Proximity to Main Roads – Proximity of a solar plant to a main road is considered an economic factor as the transportation costs affect the overall cost benefits.
- Conservation and Environmental Impact Issues – Large tracts of undeveloped land too often coincide with sensitive or protected areas or protected species. Often the presence of a single protected species of plant or animal can halt or completely alter the development plans for a solar farm.
- Local Regulations and Ownership – Objections from the military over concerns with reflections interfering with pilot’s vision or ground construction causing problems with radar installations, construction permits and agricultural land limits on depth of holes allowed on a site are examples of regulations that can affect a site.
- Flood Risk Assessment – FLA must be conducted before deciding upon the land where the farm is to be developed.
Based on the criteria listed above, one should be able to decide upon the suitability of the land available for setting up a solar farm. However, guidance of an expert in Solar is always advised before setting up the solar farm.