Solar Farms – Those Large Solar Power Plants

Summary: A solar farm usually refers to a large scale ground mounted solar power plant. Solar farms typically run into tens of MWs in capacity.

As the solar power plant industry grows at a rapid pace, you start hearing the term “solar farm” more frequently.

A solar farm is just another term for a large, ground mounted solar power plant that exports the power to the electricity grid.

The world’s largest solar farms as of mid 2014 are not really very large – they are typically about 300 MW. Compare these with thermal power plants or nuclear power plants. The world’s largest nuclear power plant is over 7000 MW, and the world’s largest hydro power plant is over 20,000 MW! Solar farms, as of 2014, are just toddlers in comparison.

Questions from the curious cat

Is a solar farm different from other solar power plants?

Not really. Solar farm is the name given to large, ground mounted solar power plants. Usually, the electricity generated from solar farms are huge, in tens or hundreds of millions of units a year.

A 100 MW solar farm for instance can generate about 150 million units of electricity in a year.

Why is it called a solar farm?

Well, we are not entirely sure of its origins, but let’s take a guess: Farms are typically visualized large land areas producing something, usually a natural product. Viewed in this context, one can understand why large-scale solar power plants, occupying large tracts of land and producing “natural” electricity, are called solar farms.

Is there a minimum size for a solar power plant to qualify as a solar farm?

No. There are no set size standards for a solar power plant to qualify as a solar farm. However, usually only those power plants that are at least 10 MW or above usually are referred to as solar farms.

What are the advantages of having large solar farms instead of small ground mounted solar power plants?

This is a good question. Solar PV is a modular technology, so there should be little difference in efficiency whether the power plant is 1 MW or 100 MW.

It is indeed true that very large solar farms might not have significantly higher efficiency than small solar power plants. However, some of the other aspects involved could make large solar farms attractive

  • Operations and maintenance – While solar power plants require far less maintenance than thermal, wind or hydro power plants, they do require periodic maintenance. Maintenance of large solar farms are more economical as the costs are spread over a much larger amount of electricity generated
  • Evacuation – All solar farms need to “evacuate” their electricity to the grid (Evacuate is just a fancy term that just means “transport”!). In many cases, new grid extensions might need to be laid to accommodate solar power plants. In these cases, it is easier for the existing utility to construct new grid infrastructure for a few large solar farms than for hundreds of small solar power plants.
  • Lower installation costs – While solar panels are modular, there is significant work and cost involved during construction and implementation of the solar power plant, some of which are fixed and do not vary according to size – an example is the cost for approvals. Economies of scale could favour large solar farms in the context of these cost components, as these costs now get spread over a much larger number of units generated.

Some nice videos for you

A quick video tour of many different solar farms – interesting stuff


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