Renewable energy is the power of today, but there is still so much mystery surrounding it. It seems to be this well-kept secret on what exactly a solar panel is and how it generates power. With that comes the questions about solar farms – What are they? Why are they so big? How do solar farms work? While this technology might sound confusing at first, it really is quite simple and easy to understand.
Solar farms are one of the best ways to generate electricity in modern times. They have near-constant access to their power source, the sun, and can emit hundreds of thousands of watts every day. These fantastic, renewable plants are a perfect replacement for fossil fuels. All we have to do is understand what exactly they are and how they work.
Here are the basics of how a solar farm operates and what exactly it’s doing for us every day. We look at the different solar farms, the process that goes into planning a solar farm, and how much one farm might cost. We also touch on how much energy one farm creates and how much money they save in the long run. But first, what exactly is a solar farm?
What Are Solar Farms?
Think of your classic corn farm for a second. Imagine the sprawling, open land which is filled with rows and rows of corn. This corn is positioned in the perfect spot to receive ample sunlight and grow throughout the year. Each ear of corn takes in energy from the sun so that the farmer can feed the community for the rest of the year.
Solar farms use that exact concept, but instead of producing food, the solar panels create power and energy. A solar farm is the same thing – the sprawling, open land filled with rows and rows of corn – but with solar panels instead of corn. They implement the same principles as a typical farm, but the good they produce is safe, green energy instead of food.
The scale of a solar farm can vary depending on the need of the community. Typically, a solar power plant will take up hundreds, if not thousands, of acres of land. The largest solar power plants can produce up to 550 megawatts (MW) of power per day. This electricity alone can power thousands of homes every day without running out. Thousands of solar panels combine to make the ultimate power grid for an entire community.
Typically, a solar park like the one described above in California is only built on unimproved land. This is a land where there are no accessible services like roads, water, or electricity. This way, the farm is removed from a residential space and doesn’t take up any space used for other activities.
What is a Solar Panel?
Essentially, a solar panel is just a bunch of amorphous solar cells made of silicon, networked into a panel. These solar cells collect energy from the sunlight and create electricity sent out to a power grid. The solar cells can only collect a small amount of energy, so there needs to be a large scale of solar panels for a solar park to be effective. That’s why a solar farm is so large and includes so many panels.
Different Types of Solar Farm
Today, there are two main types of solar farms: the photovoltaic solar farm and the solar thermal energy farm. Each offers different benefits and are used for different purposes. Some solar power plants even utilize both types of panels throughout their system. What are the differences between these two types of solar power station?
Photovoltaic Solar Panel Farm
This is likely the type of farm that you picture when you think of a solar farm. They use photovoltaic (PV) panels to collect solar energy and turn that into electricity. This is a trough system that can look very similar to that of a typical farm. Long rows of PV panels lined up right next to each other, collecting solar energy and producing electricity for clean use.
The main difference between a photovoltaic farm and a solar thermal energy farm – besides how they look – is how they produce electricity. The PV panels on a photovoltaic farm collect energy from the sun directly and instantly turn it around into usable electricity. The output of a photovoltaic farm is faster and easier to farm.
Solar Thermal Energy Farm
The interesting thing about this type of solar farm is how it’s set up. These are arranged in a semi-circular format, surrounding a tall structure known as the thermal engine, which turns heat into electricity. This type of farm doesn’t use the typical PV panels we’ve grown so accustomed to; it simply reflects the sun’s thermal energy into the engine that transfers it into electricity.
The benefits of this type of solar farm are that the output is so much more. It’s easier to generate tons of electricity from direct thermal energy than solar cells gathering sunlight. However, it can take quite a bit longer for a system to reap this type of power plant’s full benefits. Plus, on a cloudy day, very little solar power can be gathered, whereas, with a PV panel, the solar cells can still collect solar power and generate electricity.
So How Do Solar Farms Work?
Now that we have a basic understanding of what they are and how the individual panel gathers energy, we need to learn how a solar farm works. How do these solar arrays generate enough electricity to power entire city systems? What does it take to build a solar farm, and how much does the department of energy spend each year on these plants?
What to Consider Before Building a Solar Farm
This is the most important part of any solar array project. Whether it be a full solar farm or a simple rooftop utility, the planning process is what makes or breaks a solar power station. To understand how a solar farm works, you need to understand how they’re planned and built. These are the six steps of planning that every solar farm undergoes.
What Size is this Power Plant?
When planning solar farms, the first question is always how much space they’ll need to achieve the systems’ output goal. It would help if you always considered how much space you have available than how much space you’ll need. The scale of the power plant will change based on what your energy output goals are. The largest solar arrays encompass upwards of 10,000 acres of land.
How Will I Receive Electricity?
You’ll need to make a note of the closest power systems. Are there electric lines running close enough to the plant that you can tap into their system, or is your solar farm on its own? Your solar panels need power to work, so you can’t entirely rely on solar energy from the start. A boost to get started, and you’ll be ready to produce your own energy.
How Will Solar Panel Maintenance Work?
Cleaning and maintenance is a major part of running solar farms. The solar panels need to be constantly cleaned and cleared of any dirt or grime to run a peak capacity. If you’re going to make the most out of the sunlight available, you’ll need to ensure that every inch of the solar surface is cleared so that you can gather as much solar energy throughout the day as possible.
How Many Panels are Necessary?
This goes hand in hand with how much space you’ll need but is a more direct question. To find out how many solar panels your farms should have, you’ll need to understand how much power you’re looking to generate. The more power you need to generate, the large scale your farm needs to be. Small systems can only generate so much power.
How Much Will All of this Cost?
This varies between home arrays farm systems. Home arrays can cost around $10,000, depending on the company they go with. A solar farm looks somewhere in the millions, but the money they make back each year quickly outweighs the costs.
How Do Solar Farms Make Money Back?
The sun is a free, ever-present source of power for solar farms to utilize. This means the only costs they encounter are for setup, maintenance, and employment. Because of this, a solar farm can quickly earn back its money and save states millions of dollars each year in clean energy technology.
Farm to Grid
The energy gathered by solar farms is sent directly to an inverter where a utility company buys it and sends it into the grid for homes and businesses to use. At this point, this direct process is the best way for solar farms to sell their power. Storing thermal energy in a battery to be sold later isn’t feasible yet, and so this direct farm to grid method is how the energy is sold.
Finding the Perfect Optimization
The best way for solar farms to fill their power intake is through optimization. If your panels gather as much sunlight as possible at different times of the day, then your plant is properly optimized. However, if the panels are covered by shade where the sun is obstructed, the thermal energy cannot power the farm.
By positioning the devices so that sunlight is constantly accessible, and solar energy can be gathered, a farm can optimize its productivity and function properly. This is how a solar farm works through the setup, optimization, and selling directly to the utility company.
The Difference Between the Home and Farm
Besides the obvious – a solar farm is a large scale version of a home system – there are plenty of differences between the two types of solar arrays. What are the benefits of each, and why should we consider installing a home solar panel now rather than relying on solar farms?
Solar farms can only do so much. They have a limited amount of electricity, and even the biggest farms can only produce 550 MW per day. With a home system, you’ll be able to gather your own energy and speed up the process of switching to completely solar reliance.
The benefit of solar farms is found on a larger scale. Home systems are great for the individual, but they won’t be enough to supply an entire city completely. With solar farms, that electricity is available for all and comes via a clean process.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Solar Farms
As with any new system, solar farms have their advantages and disadvantages. The only thing that matters is that the pros outweigh the cons, and ample reasoning to continue using solar farms. Luckily, that’s exactly the case with these facilities.
Climate change is a major issue that our planet is facing right now, and the use of fossil fuels is only pushing that danger closer to us. With a solar farm and renewable energy, we can push back climate change and help save the earth.
Gathering energy from sunlight has proven to be a cost-effective, safe method of producing electricity. Solar farms save communities millions of dollars each year through their farming process.
The land typically used by a solar farm is unimproved and likely to remain for the foreseeable future. No active farmland or residential space is ever taken by a solar farm, just space unused and likely to stay that way.
There is very little in terms of disadvantages of solar farms. The sun is an economical, safe method of gathering energy, and in times like these, that’s exactly what we need. Some argue that the amount of space needed for a farm is too much, but, as we mentioned earlier, this is land where no planned development is present. The sun shines bright there, and the times are calling for clean energy.
Why Should You Consider Going Solar?
Going clean and installing solar panels on your own home or pushing your local government to install a solar farm is one of the fastest ways you can have a direct impact on climate change. This clean, safe energy is constantly accessible, even when the sun is hidden behind clouds and the times we’re living in demand fast action. Going solar will reduce carbon footprints and put us on the path to saving our planet.
Utilizing the sun’s power, a solar farm – made up of either PV panels or reflective surfaces that generate thermal power – can produce enough electricity to power whole communities off of just one day. These farms take up acres of unimproved land so that no residential or farmland is taken, and the electricity they produce is clean and green.
This renewable system is cost-efficient and easy to accomplish. As long as the sun is shining, a solar farm will be able to produce electricity. Understanding how a solar farm works is the first step to switching to completely green power.
Getting the Grid
As we mentioned, there are very few disadvantages to solar farms. The power is clean and constantly available, so much so that your home can easily cut yearly costs with just a few panels. By installing solar panels, not only are you decreasing your carbon footprint, but your utility bill will go down as well.
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