Not all land is suitable for a solar facility. We are typically looking for sites with several hundred acres that are close to transmission lines with available capacity, are not in a floodplain, have suitable soils, and are flat to gently rolling.
A 100 MW solar farm produces enough electricity to serve approximately 20,000 homes.
Solar panels, also known as photovoltaic modules (PV modules), work by turning sunlight into direct current (DC) electricity. The panels are supported by a racking structure that may be fixed and angled South, or may rotate from East to West on an axis. Solar panels are paired with inverters that convert the DC electricity into alternating current (AC) which is used by the power grid. The AC electricity then passes through a transformer to ensure that the power is the appropriate voltage before it is sent to the electric grid.
Our projects are surrounded by a six-to eight-foot fence which encloses all our solar arrays. Project access gates are always locked and there are plans in place to allow for emergency and maintenance vehicles to gain access when required.
Utility-scale solar projects do not increase runoff or erosion. Attaining stormwater permits is a required part of the solar development process and is overseen by the state’s Department of Environmental Quality or equivalent. The plans and applications required for stormwater permits are prepared by professional engineering firms and they ensure that projects do not contribute to erosion or flooding.
Solar energy generation is emission free. For every year of operation, a 100 MW Solar farm eliminates ~250,000,000 pounds of carbon which would otherwise be emitted from the equivalent sized thermal power plant. This is equal to removing ~15,000 passenger vehicles from the road, which would burn ~12,900,000 gallons of gasoline.
While solar produces zero emissions when generating energy, it is true that there are other life-cycle emissions. A National Renewable Energy Lab review of 400 published studies of life-cycle emissions concluded that if you include everything from resource extraction and manufacturing to decommissioning, solar energy’s life-cycle emissions are about 4% of those from coal-fired energy and less than 10% of those from natural gas. (https://www.nrel.gov/analysis/life-cycle-assessment.html)
A solar project will be able to produce energy throughout the entire year, even on cloudy days. And while the output will be maximized on clear, sunny days, even when there are clouds in the sky, there is still solar radiation hitting the solar panels as the sunshine gets through the clouds.
Solar farms do not pose a threat to wildlife. Wildlife studies are an important part of the development process — experts study proposed sites and issues permits to the developer to ensure that solar projects minimize any impact to wildlife. Solar farms can also provide important habitat for birds and pollinators like bees and butterflies.
We work to conserve as many natural spaces as possible, however, there are times when trees must be removed. Solar panels are far more effective at reducing atmospheric carbon than trees. A solar system has at least a 35-year useful life and, acre for acre, will eliminate 20 times the amount of greenhouse gases than the trees being removed would have. In addition, many projects replant the ground with native grasses or pollinator friendly plants, which can create new habitat for birds, pollinators, and small animals.
The average life of solar PV panels can be 30-40 years or longer after initial installation. When the solar facility is no longer efficient, the system will be decommissioned and the equipment removed, recycling everything possible including the metal, wires, glass, and silicon. In the U.S., end-of-life disposal of solar products is governed by the Federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), as well as state policies in some situations.
Yes. Solar land can be reverted back to agricultural use at the end of the project’s operational life. The life of a solar farm is roughly 30 – 40 years which provides a recovery period for the soil, increasing the value of that land for agriculture in the future. Giving soil rest can also maintain its quality and contribute to the biodiversity of agricultural land.
Solar projects are effectively silent, except for the inverters that produce an ambient hum equivalent to a residential air conditioner. Solar facilities are designed so that any sounds from the project are not audible from outside the project enclosure. Solar projects are considered quiet and considerate neighbors.
Solar panels are designed to absorb solar energy, not reflect it.. The average panel reflects only about 2% of incoming light, so glare from PV panels is extremely rare and can be mitigated with a vegetative buffer.
Supplying the entire U.S. with 100% PV solar energy would require about 0.6% of America’s total land area. Only a portion of farmland meets the criteria for solar energy generation which includes buildability and the appropriate utility access. And when a project is decommissioned, the land is returned to its original state, and farmers have the opportunity to go back to farming their land if they choose.
It’s important to us to design a project that is well received by the community and can be integrated into the area. Features such as visual buffers are typically created by planting vegetation along roadsides and adjacent to neighboring homes near the project soften the visual impact of the facility and maintain the rural character of the area.
Solar arrays are planted with low-growing ground cover, utilizing native species and pollinator friendly plants where practical, which can create a robust new habitat for bees, birds, insects, small mammals and other wildlife. Pesticides are not needed and only occasional mowing and trimming is required.
Grazing sheep inside a solar array is a practice used by some solar facilities to help maintain vegetation under the arrays. In addition, there is a growing practice to plant native species and pollinator friendly ground cover in or around the facility, which can create habitat for pollinators and benefit local agriculture. While we love our other livestock, cattle’s tendency to lean and scratch and goats’ tendency to climb and eat things they’re not supposed to makes them a little less welcome inside a solar array.
Occasional rain, even light rain, is typically sufficient to clean the panels. Should lack of rain or extreme dust conditions warrant cleaning, a water truck is typically used to rinse dirt and natural buildup from the panels.
Snow can serve as a natural cleaning agent that wipes away any dirt as it melts and slides away. In most cases, snow removal is not necessary. Still, typically there are operations and maintenance personnel monitoring solar panel arrays so they can remove snow if necessary.
Solar panels are designed to withstand extreme weather, including severe wind, hail, and thunderstorms. However, just like your car windshield can get damaged, the same can happen to solar panels, although it is very rare. If a solar panel were to become damaged from severe weather or any other reason, it would likely be the glass that has become damaged, and there would be no risk of exposure to the contents. If a catastrophic weather event does damage the solar panels, the facility will be well insured with plans to make repairs.
Solar arrays can range in height from 8-15 feet depending on the racking structure and solar module used. At their lowest point, the panels are typically 3-4 feet above the ground.
In most cases, solar projects are sited on land that previously generated relatively little tax revenue. The change in use provides the locality with new and higher tax revenue. Additionally, solar projects utilize minimal public infrastructure (water, sewer, police, etc.) so the net impact is almost always a significant improvement.to the locality’s bottom line, with new revenue available to use for schools, parks, police, fire, or other services.
Utility-scale solar projects create local construction jobs and increased business for local services such as hotels and restaurants. The solar projects also create a small number of long term jobs for operations and maintenance of the facility as well as vegetation management.
Ten to fifteen years ago, solar was a relatively expensive energy source. But its cost has dropped over 80% in the last ten years, making utility-scale solar one of the lowest-cost options available today.
A good way to compare the cost of different energy sources in an apples-to-apples way is to use what’s called the levelized cost of energy (LCOE), which takes into account the full life-cycle cost to build, operate, maintain, fuel, and decommission a generator.
In the most recent analysis by the investment firm Lazard, the LCOE of utility-scale solar was $28-41 per MWh, a unit of energy. That is cheaper than new nuclear ($131-204), new coal ($65-152) and new natural gas ($45-74). New solar generation is even cheaper than just the operating and fuel cost ($42) of a coal plant that is already paid for.
Solar is growing because it is cost effective and produces zero emissions.
Because solar facilities have no fuel cost and very low operating costs, solar generators are able to lock in fixed, long-term, low-cost energy rates. That price stability helps to moderate energy price increases when other fuel costs increase (gas, for example).
Photovoltaic solar (PV) works by converting sunlight directly into electricity. The vast majority of solar projects are solar PV. Concentrated solar power (CSP), on the other hand, uses mirrors to concentrate sunlight on a medium that is heated up, and that heat is used to drive a steam turbine which creates electricity. There are very few CSP projects and they are mainly in the desert southwest. Sonder Energy develops solar PV projects.