While community solar farms are simple in concept and use, they require would-be owners to conduct thorough research into the legal requirements and regulations for building them. Owners—whether individuals or companies—must also develop a technical understanding of how solar panels work, and they must be ready to set aside a certain number of acres dedicated to solar—this number can vary from a few to a few hundred in most cases. Whether you are interested in building a community solar farm or are interested in subscribing to community solar, read below for a brief introduction to building a solar farm.
How a Solar Farm Works
According to the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, the business model for a community solar farm will vary by state. Currently, about one third of the states have legislation on the books that creates a third-party market for community solar. These laws regulate how project developers and utilities sign up customers and develop community solar sites.
Generally speaking, when a landowner decides to dedicate acreage to developing a community solar farm (or to sell or lease the land for this purpose), they convert unused land (often farmland) to solar farmland. In principle, the community solar farm works in the same way as does having solar panels on private property. But instead of supplying just a single property, a community solar farm helps power the properties of people who have subscribed to the community power source. These subscribers buy energy credits that they can then use to pay their conventional electricity bills, saving them money on their energy costs. Community solar can be an attractive option to homeowners who can’t install solar panels on their property, and for renters who would not otherwise be able to access solar. The startup cost for a 1–MW farm that serves two hundred homes would be approximately $1 million. Solar farms require a hefty principal upfront, but these initial outlays can be offset by state, local, and private subsidies.
How Many Solar Panels Does it Take?
In order for the community solar farm to be viable, it must be located near electrical panels or powers lines, that are in turn linked to the centralized electrical power source or grid. To determine the number of solar panels needed for the community solar farm, the owner must first calculate how many kW of energy they need to produce. They also need to know what the solar panel production ratio for their state is. Not all panels are capable of the same output, so the actual number of panels will on the type purchased. An individual panel’s production will additionally depend on numerous factors like location, tilt, geography, shade, angle, orientation, and on whether the solar panel is fixed or tracks the sun for optimized input. Solar panels are, with the exception of the occasional cleaning, virtually maintenance free.