Land requirement for solar PV farms
- Type of solar panels used
- Whether the solar farm uses trackers technology.
Land area required based on the type of panel
Solar panels are mainly of two types: Crystalline and thin film solar panels.
- Crystalline solar panels are usually made from silicon, while thin film solar panels are made from Cadmium Telluride (CdTe) or Copper-Indium-Gallium-Selenide (CIGS).
- Broadly however, it can be said that solar PV farms with crystalline panels require about 4-5 acres per MW, and those with thin film technologies will require about 6-7 acres per MW.
The area required per MW depends on the efficiency of the solar panels – higher the efficiency, lower the area required.
Hence, with thin film panels increasing in efficiency, the per MW land area required for a solar farm with thin film panels is getting closer to that required for crystalline panels.
With or without trackers
Trackers are technologies that track the location of the sun and orient the solar panels such that the energy capture by the panels is maximised. While the use of trackers does increase the total output from every MW, trackers also require additional space, and thus the area required per MW while using trackers will be higher than otherwise.
Where are solar farms usually put up?
Solar farms are usually put up in areas where real estate is cheap. As a result, you will find large solar farms typically in the middle of barren regions and deserts.
Only in select cases and for special reasons, solar farms are put up close to cities or on costly real estate.
How much does land cost in the areas solar farms are put up?
As solar farms are located in low-cost real estate areas, the land cost per MW is usually very low. In places such as India, you can get such land as cheap as $5000 per acre. Taking an average of 5 acres per MW, the total cost of land in these regions thus is just $25,000. In India, the total project cost per MW is about $1 million; thus, cost of land is just 2.5% of the total cost. In many other regions worldwide, cost of land is in the range of 1-3% of the total cost of the project.
Other considerations while estimating cost of land
A solar farm developer should note that the cost of land should not be considered in isolation. For instance, a land parcel might be much cheaper than others, but this land parcel could be far from the transmission substation – this will result in high expenses in extending the grid from the solar farm. Or a really cheap parcel of land might be in low lying areas, resulting in frequent flooding and consequent loss in output.
Thus, the cost of land for solar farms should be considered from a holistic perspective of the total cost of the project rather than as an isolated, individual component.