A good number for solar farm cost per acre is typically $500,000 here in the U.S. You will find that typically a megawatt size solar farm system will need approximately five acres of land to be oriented and sited properly. This amount of acreage is also a good number if using any type of tracking systems on your panels to increase production levels is your goal. A one megawatt solar farm project will typically cost somewhere around $2.5 Million U.S. dollars and require a site of no less than about five acres. Building solar farms that have higher output rates while requiring less ongoing maintenance is what our company excels at. We explore the solar thermal systems advantages and types of solar thermal systems below.
With the rapid growth in energy needs around the globe and the demand for clean energy, the solar energy industry has seen tremendous growth in the recent past. More and more solar power plants are being set up to cover the increasing demand for power. In this article, you will find all the necessary information on solar farm land requirements as well as their costs.
Solar Farm Land Requirements: How Much Land Do You Need?
For one to set up any solar plant, whether it’s on the ground or rooftops, they will require substantial space. If you want a solar plant that will produce enough solar energy, then the area is one of the main prerequisites. Now, are you aware of the solar farm land requirements in your region?
People are shifting to solar energy due to its excellent sustainability advantage over the other sources of energy like fossils. Nevertheless, this source of clean energy still faces some drawbacks.
One of the major disadvantages of solar as a source of energy is its aspect of being highly diffuse.
For you to collect enough energy, it requires a considerable amount of space, which sometimes may not always be available. For example, a 100 MW solar power plant requires 10% more in area than a thermal power plant of the same size.
The difference in area size requirement implies that for you to set up a solar farm, it will cost you more in space, than setting up a thermal power plant.
If you have been thinking about this, and maybe you want to set up that solar plant, then this article is an excellent guide for you.
Whether you have a plot or you want to lease for such kind of a project, having accurate data will help you in planning and decision making.
In this piece, we will explore all the possible solar farm land requirements and any other concept that comes with it.
What is a Solar Farm?
A solar farm is an extensive photovoltaic system, mainly built to supply commercial solar power into the national electricity grid. It comprises of a large, decentralized solar panels installation that aims to provide its power to the power grid at the utility level.
The roof-mounted solar plants differ from the decentralized solar plants in that they don’t supply power to the local or individual users.
Some solar farms are usually properties of utility companies and act as assets to supply power to other properties in the area.
While individuals with solar panels target to produce energy for their homes, these large-scale utility solar farms targets to generate electricity to cater to thousands of businesses and homes, in addition to utility-scale solar farms, large-scale solar projects can also be undertaken as community solar farms.
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types of solar thermal systems
What is a Community Solar Farm?
In recent years, more people have come to realize that they can shift to solar power even without installing solar panels. This has been made possible by the emergence of solar community projects which we sometimes refer to the as roofless solar or solar garden.
With this type of a solar project, the power generated is shared among multiple households or families.
Mostly, the solar panels are ground-mounted on an extensive area which spans over several acres. Community solar farms are similar to utility solar farms except that they are mostly smaller in size.
Unlike in utility-scale, customers here either buy a power share of the solar garden or lease energy from the system.
In this manner, they tradeoff their utility payments for community solar payments, which typically costs lower.
Solar Farm Cost Per Acre
Multiple factors will influence the actual cost of setting up a solar farm. These factors may include the location of the farm, available sunlight hours, and more. Ideally, a solar farm in the utility-scale level will be at least 1 MW (megawatt) in size. This size of a plant can supply power to as many as 200 households.
According to First Solar, which is a top commercial power provider, solar installations at such a size can cost around $1 per every watt. In total, this will make $1 million for a 1-megawatt solar plant.
Sounds strangely cheap? Yes, it should.
When comparing this to the cost of a residential installation which can cost around $3 to $4 per watt, this may seem cheap.
The difference in price is brought about by the economies of scale concept. Therefore, the larger the plant, the less the cost of installation.
The above cost is non-inclusive of the license fees, and value of the land. For example, the solar farm land requirements for a 1-megawatt solar plant is around 5 acres.
On average, 1-acre solar farm, cost about $500 per month to lease in the United States. The cost of land for 1 MW plant will, therefore, translate to $2,500 per month on average.
Solar Farm Acres per Megawatt
When calculating the land size needed for solar plant installation, we must look at the things that will consume space in the facility. The two main items that consume space here are the solar panels and the structural components. From these two, one can now make a reasonable estimate of the area needed.
For example, for a 1 MW solar power plant installation, the solar farm land requirements would be around 4 acres, when using a crystalline technology.
When we use thin-film technology, a 1MW plant will require an average of 4.5 to 5 acres of land. In other terms, we can say that for each 1 kW of solar panels, you need 100 sqft of an area on average.
However, this is a rough estimate as space can also be influenced by the efficiency of the panels and technology. When it comes to solar energy per acre, a photovoltaic solar plant which on average produces 1 GWh per year, will require around 2.8 acres of land. Therefore, we can say that for every acre, the plant produces an average of 0.357 GWh or 357 MWh of energy per year.
The higher the efficiency of the panels, the less the number of panels needed to produce the required amount of power. Fewer solar panels then mean less land space used.
The level of efficiency causes a significant difference in solar farm land requirements between crystalline and thin-film technology. Crystalline solar panels have around 18% of efficiency level while the thin-film technology offers approximately 12% efficiency.
The difference means that 1 MW of solar power plant with thin-film technology will require more land than the crystalline technology by about 50%.
Solar Farm Lease Rates
Solar energy production is currently among the most lucrative ventures in America due to the rocketing demand for green energy. Based on a report by SEIA (Solar Energy Industries Association), solar plants offered the largest source of clean energy in 2016. It was way over other new energy production rivals including wind and natural gas.
The 2018 SEIA report indicated that for six years in a row, solar was among the top two new power generating capacity sources in the U.S.
During the fourth quarter of 2018, the solar market in the US installed a solar PV of 4.2 GWdc. The amount signifies an increase of 139% from what was mounted in Q3 2018 and around a 4% increase from installations made in Q4 2017.
With this kind of increase in demand for solar electricity, the land leasing rates have also skyrocketed. The increased solar production capacity has made the US the 4th largest solar producer in the world.
With this perspective, solar farming has gained traction over time, creating more valuable financial opportunities both for the landowners and investors.
So how many acres for solar will feed this growing demand? The answer depends on different factors.
Looking now at the cost per acre, it will cost you an average of $2,000 per acre for a 10-acre site near a substation that is just outside an urban area. For land in rural areas such as California or North Carolina, you can get an average price of $1,000 or more per acre.
In that area, the demand is high for small sites. Expansive tracks of land such as over 100 acres for large solar power plant projects will require a $300 – $500 per acre in Texas.
In the Southeast, the same size of the land will go for about $500 per acre per month. In places like Virginia and Illinois, large farms can fetch over $800 per acre, although dependent on multiple factors.
Factors Affecting Solar Farm Lease Rates
As we have seen, the above land lease rates are not constant. They are affected by numerous factors, which include:
1. Size of the Project
The first factor that influences the land lease rates is the size of your project. Large projects require more space, and therefore, the economies of scale will apply. For example, land lease per acre for sites below 30 acres will be higher than the rate of leasing above 100 acres in the same region.
The primary reason for this difference is the electrical infrastructure, as well as landowners’ reward and risk.
Small solar power projects, especially under 3 MW, benefit from the availability of substations nearby. Therefore, buying new and expensive equipment to add a small amount of power into the grid is not economical.
It, therefore, means that small developers will pay more to have the right site.
Also, the liabilities and the upfront time required to start either a small or large project is the same. This increases the landowner’s resistance. That is because they don’t want construction on their land, which does not meet their financial reward threshold.
They don’t wish to long-term contracts that are not economically ideal for them hence the higher rates.
2. Area Land Prices and Alternative Uses
The current land prices and the availability of beneficial alternative use for the land can significantly affect the cost of leasing rates. For instance, a vineyard farm in California would require more than a cattle ranch in Texas.
All this is due to the value the landowner attaches to his farm. They set a price depending on the amount of profit they expect to earn from their farm.
Although solar energy investment offers a higher value for the use of land, the same factor also raises its cost. You will have different leasing rates in different areas, even within the same state. Irrigated areas in one state will cost more than non-irrigated sites in the same state.
Based on the 2018 USDA’s agricultural land prices report, it is evident that the current use of land is a determinant of the lease rate.
According to this report, the average land price across the US is around $3,140 per acre.
The cost can go to as high as $13,800 per acre in Rhode Island. In New Mexico, the cost can go as low as $530 per acre.
Agricultural land has become a significant target for land developers in the US. Therefore, there are substantial differences in lease rates across the states.
3. The Demand and Supply of Solar Sites in an Area
It’s no brainer that the forces of demand and supply have a significant effect on the price of any item. This is no different in the case of solar farm lease rates. If the need for ideal sites is higher than its supply, the price of a lease will rise.
The availability of suitable land for solar plant installation may be affected by various factors, including natural land constraints. For example, if we consider a place like Florida, the area is full of wetlands.
Also, the insurance rates are incredibly high, especially near the coastlines. On the other hand, a place like Virginia has a mountainous western part, while the eastern side is urbanized.
All these limits the amount of available land that can fit large solar farms. Also, areas where solar installations started long ago, can experience a shortage of land.
That’s because the best land may already have been taken. When the supply is less than the demand, the solar farm lease rate will, in most cases be high.
Conclusion on Solar Farm Land Requirements
If you have the right information, you can make critical decisions when it comes to solar project investment. Different sizes of solar plants require different sizes of land for set up.
I hope this article offers you useful information on all the solar farm land requirements for your project.
HOW TO BUY SOLAR PANELS
Are you thinking about buying a solar panel system but don’t know where to start? You came to the right place!A Really Great Read
Before we dive in to the specifics of solar panels (a.k.a. PV modules, solar electric panels), let us remind you that energy efficiency and conservation are the best ways to reduce your energy foot print and your electrical bill (see our Energy Efficiency and Your Home article). Please actively explore and incorporate all avenues of efficiency before pursuing a home solar panel system. That being said, solar power is an exciting clean-energy option that is becoming more and more popular. Solar electricity is a fascinating topic. To really feed your curiosity, we highly recommend the book PHOTOVOLTAICS: DESIGN & INSTALL MANUAL.
What shapes, sizes and types do solar panels come in?
Solar panels vary in length and width and are often about 2 inches thick. They are generally about 30 pounds or less, but the larger solar panels can be cumbersome to carry onto the roof. We carry a wide selection of solar panels for home use: framed, foldable, and rollable.
- Framed solar panels are the industry standards. They are the most cost effective and applicable for most home solar panels applications.
- Foldable solar panels are lightweight (less than 5 pounds) and can fold up and fit easily in a backpack.
- Flexible (or rollable) solar panels are also lightweight but bulkier than the foldable panels. Many people use these rollable solar panels on boats because they are durable and can be easily stowed after use.
Generally thin-film laminate type of solar panels (foldable & flexible) are more expensive per watt and require more square footage to produce the same wattage of an equally sized framed module.
What size solar panels do I need for my home and how many?
The number of solar panels you will need depends primarily upon the amount of electricity you are trying to produce and the insolation in your area. Solar insolation can be thought of as the number of hours in the day that the solar panel will produce its rated output. This is not equivalent to the number of daylight hours. Read more about insolation in our How To section and get an idea of the insolation in your area: Solar Insolation Map – USA.
You’ll find solar panels in a variety of wattages. Watts are the main measure of a solar panel, along with nominal voltage. For a rough idea of how many watts of solar panels you will need for your home, start by dividing your electrical usage (in watt-hours per day) by the solar insolation in your area. Bump that number up by 30-50% (to cover system inefficiencies) and you’ll have an idea of the number of watts of solar panels total you will need. If that number is more than 1000 watts, you are talking about $4K to $8K or more for the solar electric system. (Could we take this opportunity to mention the importance of energy efficiency again?!) If you could still use a little help with the math, please give us a call and tell us how much electricity you are trying to produce (in kwh/month or watt-hours/ day) and your location, and we’ll help get you started.
What types of solar panels are there?
Most solar panels can be classified as monocrystalline, polycrystalline or amorphous. This is based on the silicon structure that comprises the cell. It’s not quite as complicated as it sounds. Basically a 100 watt monocrystalline solar panel should have the same output as a 100 watt polycrystalline solar panel and a 100 watt amorphous solar panel. The main difference is the amount of area which the solar panel occupies. Because the monocrystalline structure is more efficient than amorphous (and only very slighlty more so than polycrystalline) in turning sunlight into electricity, the amorphous solar panel of the same wattage will be physically larger. By the way, when talking about efficiency of solar panels, keep in mind that solar panel efficiency is still only about 13-18% efficient in turning sunlight into electricity. Often amorphous solar panels are less expensive than the crystalline panels. If space is not an issue, then an amorphous panel could be a great option. Additionally, amorphous solar panels perform better than crystalline solar panels in very hot temperatures and are also slightly more tolerant of partial shading.
Solar Energy for Home Heating & Cooling
Please keep in mind that solar panels produce electricity, and should not be used to produce electricity for heating or cooling sources. If heating is your main issue, be sure to check out Solar Air Heaters and Solar Water Heaters. Solar air heating and solar water heating are examples of solar thermal technologies which produce heat, but not electricity (and are much more cost effective than solar panels). While solar electric panels are not an economically feasible choice to power your air conditioning, a solar panel can power an attic fan that can help reduce the amount of time you use your AC.
Locating your Panels – Very Important!
A key factor in the effective use of solar electricity is proper placement of the solar panels. Make sure to locate the panels where they will receive full sunlight between the hours of 10 am and 3 pm. Be sure that the solar panels will not be shaded by shadows from tree branches, chimneys, other structures, etc. Once again – NO SHADE! You will be mounting the solar panels on the roof, the ground or a pole. For more information on the proper placement solar electric panels, please checkout the How To for Solar Panel Mounting article.
How Long will Solar Panels Last?
Solar panels use the sun’s light to generate electricity. They generate electricity during sunny daylight hours and can be used in a system with batteries so that the electricity can be used at other times as well. Also known as Photovoltaic (PV) modules, solar panels are the main component of a solar electric system. Along with an inverter, mounting system, batteries and Solar Charge Controllers, solar panels can produce electricity to power the energy efficient appliances and lights and appliances in most households. Solar panels themselves generally last over 25 years, and require little maintenance. Many of the first solar panels produced in the 50s are still in use today. Many of the solar panels have a 20 year warranty or more. A common warranty states that the panels will produce at least 80% of their rated power after 20 years.
What else will I Need with a Solar Panel?
In addition to the solar panel mounting hardware, there are additional components that you will need for a safe installation. If you plan on using just one solar panel in a battery based system (an off-grid system), you will need a solar charge controller and overcurrent protection to protect each major component of your system: solar panels, solar charge controller, deep cycle batteries, and inverter. If you plan on using more solar panels in your system, you will also need to safely wire the photovoltaic solar panels together and to the charge controller. An easy and safe way to do this is by using MC (multi contact) connectors. These connectors connect to the cables coming from the solar panel and can be cut in half to expose bare wire. Combiner & pass-through boxes are used to collect the bare ends of the wire from multiple solar panels; then from the combiner box you can run just one set of wires to the solar charge controller. For each series string of solar panels, you will need an appropriate sized breaker.
That’s a lot of components to figure out! If after reading all this you are a little confused but even more excited about solar energy, what’s next? Well, you can read more about solar panel systems. Also, our AltE U offers in-person workshops in Massachusetts and Ohio, as well as free education online videos. If you are considering installing your own solar electric system or installing PV (photovoltaic panels) as a business, be sure to check out our series of three classes beginning with our Basic Photovoltaic and Site Assessment class.
TIPS FOR BUYING YOUR SOLAR POWER SYSTEM.
Buying a home solar power system can be a very exciting experience, but don’t get too carried away by advertising. Be sure to focus on the important aspects of your purchase as it’s a substantial investment and one you’ll be living with for a long time. The following are some buying solar tips on what to look for when purchasing a system.
Ask friends, family neighbours or colleagues who have had solar PV systems installed. Often the best buying solar tips com from right in your neighbourhood. They’ll be able to tell you about their experiences and perhaps alert you to any problems they experienced. Problems that you’ll be able to avoid. Learn more about potential issues in our consumers guide to solar power – avoiding tricks and traps.
Length of manufacturer’s warranty
Take note of what guarantees the manufacturer offers. If the manufacturer is reputable and the warranty period on the panels is substantial (at least 25 years) you would naturally expect your solar system to last long for a long time, long enough to pay for itself and make you a profit. However, for a warranty to be honoured, the manufacturer needs to be still operating. So, be cautious of brands without a track record in Australia.
Have realistic price expectations
If you are paying substantially less than many other similar size systems quoted, you may find poor quality equipment and/or poor installation work. Quality equipment and installation isn’t cheap and, like all other purchases, you often get what you pay for.
Compare components and warranty periods and check into the company providing the installation. While large, well established companies can pass on substantial savings due to increased buying power, other companies often reduce costs by cutting important corners.
Solar panel certifications
This applies to all solar panel purchases, but especially to the purchases that could attract a government rebate. The certification on solar panels indicates the type of testing that they have undergone. For instance, TUV IEC 61215 confirms that the solar panels have gone through testing by an independent laboratory and have met their advertised specifications. Other certification types are often self-assessed. Therefore, they rely on the company being honest in what it claims.
Decide on the type of panels
It used to be the case that if you had limited roof space you would need highly efficient (and very expensive) mono-crystalline solar panels. This is rapidly changing with advances in polycrystalline panel technology and some thin film technologies. Still, even if you have ample roof space you may still want to consider panel sizes vs. output. Filling up your roof with inefficient panels will affect your ability to add more panels at a later date, and does not maximise the power output of the space.
It’s also important to bear in mind that regardless of claim, no solar panel technology will produce a significant amount of power in full shade. Learn more about monocrystalline vs. thin film panels.
Solar panel mounting
Make sure that the roof, ground mounting or tracking system is engineer certified for the area you are in. For example, if you live in a cyclone prone area make sure the mounting system and mounting brackets are also cyclone rated. Quality systems are wind certified. After all you do not want your system to take off during a wild storm . The mounting system is a very vital component and some suppliers skimp on this item. Make sure you ask about wind certification, warranty arrangements and get copies of relevant documents.
Solar inverter efficiency
A power inverter is the box between the panels and your appliances that converts DC electricity from solar panels to AC suitable for use in your home.
Not all solar inverters are equal and inverter efficiency will have a direct impact on the amount of time it takes for a system to pay for itself. Look at the inverter efficiency before purchasing a system. Obviously, the more efficient the inverter the better. Less electricity will be wasted as heat during the conversion from DC to AC. Industry leading solar inverters for grid connect systems in Australia include SMA, Sungrow and Fronius. Be cautious of generic type brands.
Get a few solar quotes
It always wise to gather a few solar quotes when making a major purchase as you will find that prices vary widely between providers. But don’t be just swayed by price as inferior components can reduce the up-front cost of the system. However, they may wind up costing you more in the long run in terms of reliability and efficiency.
Avoid high pressure sales people
High pressure sales tactics are unfortunately common in the solar industry. Try not to make decisions on the spot, just ask the person to let you consider the offer. If it’s as good as they claim, it will still be a good deal tomorrow. Pressured decisions on the spot often turn out to be less advantageous in reflection.
High pressure sales people are only one of the pitfalls that may await you when you shop for a solar power system. Learn more about the potential issues and how to avoid them in our consumers guide to solar power – avoiding tricks and traps.