Solar Farms

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What is a Solar Farm?

A solar farm is a collection of solar arrays on unimproved land for the purpose of generating power from the sun’s energy.

Large commercial photovoltaic solar farms typically use hundreds or thousands of PV panels covered to convert the sun’s rays into electricity.

Different Types of Solar Farms

Solar thermal power plant in Seville, Spain. Photo credit: abengoabioenergy.com

Both photovoltaic solar panels and solar thermal energy arrays can be used in solar farms.

A photovoltaic solar panel farm uses solar panels that convert sunlight directly into electricity.

A solar thermal energy farm uses parabolic troughs that collect, reflect, and concentrate the sun’s energy to warm a heat transfer fluid. This transfer fluid is pumped into a thermal engine that converts the heat into electricity.

How a Solar Farm Works

Using vacant land, often what might be considered farmland, and a mass of solar panels, a solar farm converts solar energy into electric power. The generated power is funneled back into the electric grid. The local electricity company pays the owner for the generated power.

The basic principles are identical to that of a solar panel operation installed on a homeowner’s roof, just on a larger scale. A solar farm takes advantage of a large tract of land to generate and sell electricity to the local utility at a profit.

How Much Energy Can a Solar Farm Produce?

Currently, the largest solar panel farm in the world is Huanghe Hydropower Golmud Solar Park, located in China. The solar farm produces roughly 200 MW per day.

There is currently a 550 MW solar farm (The Desert Sunlight Project) under construction in Riverside County, California.

The largest solar thermal energy farm in the world is creatively called the Solar Energy Generating System, located in the Mojave Desert in California. The farm generates a daily capacity of 354 MW.

Solar Energy Land Area Needed to Power the World

Sunlight in the areas represented by black disks could produce enough energy to power the world. Credit: ez2c.de

Solar Farms: Pros and Cons

What are the advantages of a solar farm?

Solar panels are typically mounted on rotating towers that can maneuver the tilt and angle of each panel, following the arc of the sun to generate the optimal amount of power. So in contrast to residential solar panel systems, a solar farm can better situate panels to make the most of the available solar radiation.

Further, while a residential solar panel system is limited by roof space, architectural constraints, and the problem of aesthetics, vast expanses of unimproved land can be utilized as solar farms, where only start up and operational costs govern the scale of the operation.

Solar farms are able to utilize open flat land, where potential shading is not an issue. Having panels concentrated in one location also makes maintenance and repairs much easier and more economical than going rooftop to rooftop.

Are there any disadvantages of a solar farm?

It is hard to say much negative about a solar farm. Producing economical, efficient, renewable energy and helping to reduce a region’s carbon footprint are clearly very positive attributes.

It could be argued that using large swaths of land for a singular purpose may be problematic from a development standpoint.

But it’s generally agreed that the pros of solar farms far outweigh any perceived cons.

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