In my previous post I answered some questions people had about developing a solar farm, but in this post I’m going to take a different tack. I’ve spoken to a few people over the last few months who fit this stereotype. They have land, they think they can get some money, and they would like to see if developing a solar farm makes sense. There’s nothing wrong with being at the beginning, but it’s daunting when you don’t know what you don’t know. So what I’ve told people is that there are a basic set of questions that they need to answer before they can really proceed. Figure out what you don’t know, and you can start. Right?
So, here are some of the questions you need to figure out if you’re thinking of developing a solar farm:
1. Is the site I’m considering close to high voltage transmission capacity? How close? Is there a transmission substation nearby? Is there capacity on the lines for additional power generation to be connected?
Substations are always easier to connect to than just power lines, and in solar farm development, easier means cheaper. People have asked me how close is close enough, and the truth is that I have no idea. Labour costs, permits, right of ways to put in power lines and other factors will affect this, but you need to install some fairly expensive overhead power lines to connect a solar farm to the rest of the grid. How much costs will change, but this is a cost. So, you absolutely need to start by contacting whoever manages the actual power distribution lines in your region and find out if you can connect. It’s sad how often the answer is “no”. (I’ve been told annecdotally that anything over 25 km is too far away, and that really you want to be within 5 to 10 km from the connection point, with a clear line to run the power lines. The person who quoted this to me wasn’t developing a solar farm, but it sounds reasonable.)
2. Who manages the local zoning for development in my area? What is the land classified as now? Who manages environmental impact assessments for my area? Who might have veto power over this project? What additional costs might environmental factors add to my site?
Figure our who can block your development, and start figuring out if they might. Start looking into environmental impact assessments as early as possible in the process and contact Green Energy friendly organizations for advice. People are constantly surprised at hidden costs here, and attention needs to be paid early and often. As for environmental factors, if you’re in desert, does your area flash flood? If you’re in Canada, does the ground freezing in the winter increase costs? What about snow?
I’ve heard solar panel sales people tell potential buyers that because they’re black, they warm in the sun and don’t accumulate snow. Total BS. First, “getting warm in the sun is code for “inefficient”. If sunlight is turning into heat, it’s not turning into electricity. Second, if you live anywhere where it snows, you know full well that what colour something is has no effect on how much snow builds up on top of it. Snow is an issue in solar farms in Canada, and I’ve heard some innovative ideas, but nothing actually deployed in practise.
3. How much sun do I actually get per year here? How many hours per month for each month, and at what intensity in kWh/m2? If possible, what is the ratio of direct to diffuse light?
Just about every country in the world has some version of this information available, in Canada it’s Natural Resources Canada, in the US it’s NREL. However, what I strongly recommend is that you consult your local utility to find out what insolation data they recommend. If your local power utility (or whoever manages the power grid you want to connect to) is at all interested in solar energy, then they will be able to recommend solar resource data. If they’re not interested, don’t have solar resource data and can’t answer your questions, find out in anyone has connected a grid tied solar power project. If no one has… yikes… good luck. At the end of the day, if you have some sun, it’s probably ok, but the real factor is the price of electricity. Higher price, solar makes more sense.
Calculating DNI can be harder, as not everyone tracks this data. There are companies that will provide you with reports, and there is software you can download, but for some areas it can be a challenge to get an accurate number if you’re not in the US or Europe. The company 3TIER will sell you a report for your area and you can download a sample report to see what they can provide. I haven’t worked with them, and they seem to be expensive, but they look like they provide a detailed and independent report, which can make investors less nervous. Also out there is Meteonorm, a software package you can download or order as a CD. They let you download a sample version that has data for one city to allow you to evaluate the software. I like this option as it’s much cheaper than 3TIER, but you would need to be sure that Meteonorm gave you all the details you felt you needed.
Busy week, so I’ll do a third part when I can.