Developing a Solar Farm Questions

Lately I’ve received quite a few questions regarding the development of a solar farm in emails and in comments on this blog, mainly from the comments in this post and a few others.  I’m happy to do my best to answer, but I’m not an expert – so grains of salt people.  (Big grains of salt.)  To keep the post from getting too long, I’ll answer the direct questions today and follow up with additional details and other things to consider in my next post.

Also, since this seems to be an interesting topic, I’ve made a “Solar Farms” category, so if you want to just see my posts related to solar farms, select that from the Categories drop down menu on the right.

So, questions:

Can I recommend a good book on the subject?

I don’t think a good book exists, and don’t think one will for a while yet.  Three reasons:

  1. Most of the knowledge that would make for a GOOD book is very new and the people who really have it can make more money by being among a select group of experts.
  2. The issues are very regional.  Someone who is an expert in California would lack a knowledge of what’s what in Florida for example.
  3. This is still an emerging market and industry, so the knowledge needed is changing and evolving all the time, so anything writen down (including this blog post) will be out of date fairly quickly.

In lieu of a good book, there are some websites, conferences, webinars and other resources (many of them free) that are available, and some strategies that you can employ.  If you’re serious about laying out many millions for a serious solar farm, I would partner with or hire an engineer.  I’ll go into more detail in my next post.

Several people have asked if their local climate (Maine, New Zealand, Northern Ontario etc) has enough sun to justify a solar farm.

Sadly, right now, solar is still too expensive for most projects in regions where electricity isn’t VERY expensive, and where no subsidies exist.

I’ve talked about this a little in this post, but you need to basically get your hands on solar resource data (also called Insolation).  Most governments track this and make it public, Natural Resources Canada (NR-CAN) and NREL in the US provide this data, and I’ll bet most other countries do too.  If you need very highly regional data, there are consultants you can pay for reports or solar test equipment you can buy to do tests.

Short version however, and I’ve said this before, the amount of sunlight does not matter as much as the cost of electricity.  If electricity is expensive or otherwise unavailable, then yes, develop solar.  The people who have to do their homework are the majority in the middle who have moderately high (and ever increasing) electricity costs, and need to evaluate.  There, kWh/m2/year data is available, and you need to get to a useful cost per watt value for your solar farm.  From there it’s a quick bit of math to figure out the rest.

I’ve talked about pricing out solar panels before, and make a few additional comments in my next post.

Have I heard of municipal push back on solar farm development?

Yes, absolutely, and for many reasons.  This can be a real show stopper, and as I said in my previous post, the specific local reasons can be surprising.  (Endangered species protection, retention of valuable food producing land for farming, reflections distracting pilots during take off and landing… you name it.  Do your homework.)

In my next post I’ll try to expand on what I would want to know before seriously investing time and energy in a solar farm project, resources that are useful (and some that are indispensible) and other tips and advise I’ve heard from people.  If you’re reading this and I don’t answer your question here, let me know.  I’ll try to update these posts to keep them relevant.


One response to “Developing a Solar Farm Questions

  1. Great post! Thank you for posted this…