Developing a Solar Farm Questions Part II

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?

An example of an installed solar farm.

An example of an installed solar farm.

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.


15 responses to “Developing a Solar Farm Questions Part II

  1. What budget cost should be used for say 50 acres, 10 MW? Should be pretty low as I have heard that there is a glut of PV panels on the market?

    • Mark, turnkey cost of a 10 MW CSP plant is now around US$ 30 millions, including 40 acres of land, engineering, all equipment, installation, 20 years warranty, etc., all inclusive. If the deployment is in USA and if you are qualified for such a loan, you may own the plant by paying US$ 150K per month for 20 years. 10 MW CSP plant can generate enough power for 8000 US households in southern states. i.e the plant can produce approx. 7.2 millions kWh electricity per month or in other words US$ 792K revenue per month. All this info is sub-final and indicative of course.

  2. I live in the US and want to built 1 MW solar farm (CPV)
    I see that in Canada I can get about $ 0.40 per KW which is 4 times bigger than the price at the US.
    I like to know if I need to be a Canadian citizen and what will be the best way to arrange financing.
    Thank you
    Izak Shrira

    • Hello Izak:
      In which state do you want to built a 1 MW solar farm. Some states in US have very good incentives other than the utility rate. We would be interested in assisting you with your solar farming. We are certified and licensed installers in US. Please feel free to email me at
      Thanks Praneeth

    • please contact me on my
      i will assist you if you are planning to have one solar farm in canada


    • Hi Rolando

      We would be interested in leasing your property for solar system. Please feel free to write me at


    • Dear Rolando,

      NJ is the best state to go solar. There are various solar power sytems, lots of financing options and huge amount of government subsidies available for you. You can literally own & operate a 25 million dollar 5 MWpDC rated solar power plant in 25 acres without putting any capital. Such power plant will generate approx. 9 GWh of electricity per year. You will sell that electricity to the grid under a long term contract, plus you will also make additional revenue of $ 50 – 60 million by selling your Solar Renewable Energy Credits (SRECs) until 2026…

      It will be my pleasure to explain all about this to you free-of-charge without any obligation. If interested, please feel free to send me an email at or call me at 888-809-1312.


  4. I have 1500 acres of open farmland within 5 kilometers of a major high voltage substation, to be constructed by the end of 2011, in Queensland Australia. happy to take any enquiries regarding sale for a solar farm email

  5. I need the list of the equipments needed to build a 1MW solar farm to have it work we want to do it prepaid with a smart card and meter to distribute the energy to people our project is here in Nigeria West Africa. you can contact me at Isaac,

  6. nick koutsovasilis

    I have a property in southern Greece which measures about 1800 stremata which converts to 18000 acres. Looking for a solar company to lease the land for solar energy. The land is an arid to semi arid mountain region with low bush and vegetation. Neighbouring plots of land have been leased with plans for solar and their is a grid within 2 to 3 km. Any suggestions or information would be appreciated.

  7. nick koutsovasilis

    Sorry, bad conversion it is actually 44 acres.

  8. Ralph Thompson

    I would like to know what size solar pv modules and how many would I need to be able to deliver a minimum 3MW to the power grid?

  9. Jamie Hoisington

    I am located south of St. Louis MO about 1 hour in the country about 10 miles from towns in every direction. 50 flat, unencumbered acres or more could be available for a solar farm. I am interested in learning how many MW this size farm could produce, the general costs involved and what kind ROI would be expected. Are there any investors, partners or grants available to handle ALL start-up costs? Could we start with maybe 10 acres and grow? I have the land (free&clear) but NO capital to invest. There are over 200 sunny days in Missouri. Missouri’s solar resources exceed that of Germany, which leads the world in solar energy production. Please email me with any helpful info at:

    Thank you