Tag Archives: land use

Solar Farm Site Selection

I was putting this list together for a presentation that I’m giving next week, and I thought I would post it here too.  These factors are true for any technology, but they’re part of the reason I like our technology – high efficiency modules on sun trackers really make many of these issues more manageable.

Solar Farm

Solar Farm

Don’t take this all to mean that there aren’t any sites out there for solar farm development – there are thousands of sites available – these considerations really just emphasize the fact that even if you’re out in the desert, it’s a mistake to treat land as essentially free.  This just stresses the need for efficient use of land for solar farms.

Below are some of the issues that a solar farm developer needs to consider when selecting a site.

Quality of terrain
Sloped land, excessively rocky or sandy terrain, uneven land etc can all significantly add to the cost of installing a solar farm.

Local weathering factors
Desert conditions often coincide with excessive dust fall, flooding and flash flooding, high erosion etc, and these can limit the viability of a site and in many cases can make a site non-viable.

Proximity to High Transmission Capacity Lines
One of the biggest hidden costs of a solar farm is the distance required to connect a system to high voltage lines capable of carrying the excess production.  The costs of even a few extra kilometres can completely destroy the profitability of a solar farm.

Local Transmission Capacity
Worse, in many places, power grids are not able to handle the excess capacity that a solar farm would introduce.  This has been a persistent problem in California, Spain, Ontario and the Middle East, and has led to hundreds of projects being cancelled or delayed indefinitely.

Conservation and Environmental Impact Issues
Large tracts of undeveloped land too often coincide with sensitive or protected areas or protected species.  Often the presence of a single protected species of plant or animal can halt or completely alter the development plans for a solar farm, and for example in California, the evidence of single endangered burrowing owl halted the development of a solar farm project worth hundreds of millions.  Thin films are especially bad as they really require the land to be completely covered to get a useful watts/acre ratio.

Agricultural Concerns
Most government agencies responsible for agriculture do not want to see farmers paving over their fields with solar panels.  Especially in Canada and Southern Europe, available land near electrical demand centres is usually agricultural land – this will turn into a bigger and bigger issue as time goes on.

Local Regulations and Ownership
It is surprising the number of issues that can arise, even in a friendly regulatory framework.  Objections from the military over concerns with reflections interfering with pilot’s vision or ground construction causing problems with radar installations, construction permits and agricultural land limits on depth of holes allowed on a site are examples of regulations that can effect a site.  This has been a consistent issue with site selection for solar farms everywhere.  Further, although this depends on local factors, land ownership of the solar farm land itself, or the right of way required for construction access and/or connection to high voltage transmission can severely complicate factors, especially when previously “worthless” land is suddenly perceived as valuable.

Land Prices Rise Quickly
Generally, solar farm developments tend to happen regionally, where several projects appear in quick succession.  The surprising limits to viable sites discussed above, combined with the high costs of developing solar farms tends to lead to higher land prices, higher property taxes and in worst cases, land speculation.

Smaller Solar Farms Save other Costs
Panel and land costs are not the only costs to consider – installation costs, cabling and O&M are all less costly in smaller solar farms.  As the scale gets bigger, this becomes more significant.

That’s a sample, trust me – talk to a solar farm developer and they’ll laugh at how oversimplified this list is.  That said, there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of solar farms in the works all over the world.  Efficiency matters.  That’s all I’m saying.

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Paving over farmland

I know a solar farm developer that was originally going to go with Thin Film for his installation, but to get the power capacity he would have wanted, he would have had to literally cover almost the whole farm land.  The ground was naturally contaminated with sulphur as it happened, so it wasn’t usable farm land, but I know allot of people who spend time thinking about land use (Bureau of Land Management in the US, Ministry of Agriculture here in Canada for example) who worry about this possibility.  That’s one of the reason I love tracking systems – you get up to 44% more power per day, and you can dual use the land.  These pics from an orange orchard in Spain are the prettiest examples I’ve seen – they used to use diesel generators to power the water pumps.  (These are not ours, but we’re looking at that brand of tracker.)

PV Panels on Sun Trackers in an Orange Orchard

PV Panels on Sun Trackers in an Orange Orchard

Pretty, eh? Here’s another.

Sun Trackers in an Orange Orchard

Sun Trackers in an Orange Orchard

Intersolar North America 2008 Summary – Part 2

Solar Industry

Solar Industry

Here’s part two of my wrap up of Intersolar North America 2008.  Obviously, this doesn’t even scratch the surface of what was covered at the conference, but these were some of the things that stuck out in my mind.  Also, I haven’t added anything about the exhibition – I spend quite a bit of time checking out the various exhibits and talking to people, but they were enforcing their “no photography” policy the day I was walking the floor, and frankly, there’s not much I could say here that isn’t on the exhibitor’s websites.

  • Concentrated Solar Thermal (CST) – CST still enjoys cost advantages over PV, but these are shrinking rapidly.  As the price of concrete and steel continue to climb, this advantage will erode, and will quite likely disappear and then reverse in the next 5 to 10 years:
    • Solar Thermal systems can store their heat, they can produce more power output as needed and during peak demand, which makes this more attractive for utility scale solar.
    • As PV costs start to significantly fall, combined PV – Wind systems might start to look more attractive, see next point.
  • Meeting Peak Electrical Demand – Photovoltaic and Wind Power output compliments well.  As prices fall, proposals for blended systems might become more common.  See slide:
Wind and PV Power Output

Wind and PV Power Output

  • High Quality Development Land – Land use is becoming a bigger issue as flat, high solar irradiance land near transmission lines gets bought up.  The US Federal Bureau of Land Management tried to put a 2 year moratorium on new solar projects, and concerns about endangered species habitats and even flash flooding have put the breaks on some projects.
    • This hurts land inefficient applications like thin film, tracking PV and Tower Solar Thermal the most.

And finally, here are a couple more blog posts and articles covering the event.

Greentech Media has another slide show of the conference itself, and a short article on some of the other conference news items.  (If you look carefully in slide 3, I’m the green shoulder and hair visible behind the woman in the first row.)

In the San Francisco Examiner, a short summary article about the conference.  Short version of the article, it was an excellent conference, attendance was huge and if you’re at all interested in solar and can make it next year, go.

So, that’s basically it for now.  I will definitely go into more detail on some of these points in the future and am likely to cover other points raised that I didn’t mention here.