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Choosing the Best Locations for Solar Energy: Factors to Consider


Choosing the best locations for solar energy, factors to consider, image of solar panel array

Choosing the right location for a new solar farm project is crucial for its long-term success and sustainability. The location can significantly impact the amount of sunlight the panels receive, which directly influences the energy production efficiency of the solar farm. Hence, it's essential to consider areas that experience substantial sunlight throughout the year. Moreover, the location also impacts the project cost since land prices, local taxes, and construction costs vary across different regions.


When developers embark on the task of selecting an ideal location for a solar farm, several factors need to be considered. Firstly, the geographical aspects such as topography, climate, and solar irradiance are vital. Secondly, proximity to grid infrastructure is another crucial aspect. It's more cost-effective to build solar farms near existing power lines or substations, reducing the cost and complexity of connecting the farm to the grid.


Lastly, developers should also consider regulatory and community factors. Understanding local zoning laws, environmental regulations, and potential community opposition can help avoid potential roadblocks during the project development phase. In essence, the selection of a suitable location for a solar farm is a complex process that requires careful consideration of various environmental, economic, and social factors.



Land Requirements for Solar Energy


The area required for utility-scale solar energy projects can greatly vary based on the specifics of the installation, such as its capacity and the solar technology used. As a general guideline, a utility-scale solar farm typically requires about 5 to 10 acres of land per megawatt (MW) of installed capacity. This implies that a 100 MW solar farm might need between 500 to 1,000 acres of land.



Ground-mounted solar installations, which are common for utility-scale projects, require substantial land area because the panels are spread out on the ground. The land must be relatively level and free of obstructions like trees or buildings that could cast shadows on the panels and decrease their efficiency. Additionally, the soil conditions must be suitable for the installation of mounting structures.



On the other hand, commercial-scale rooftop solar installations have different solar farm land requirements. These systems are installed on the roofs of commercial buildings, so they don't require additional land. However, the size and structural integrity of the building's roof are important considerations. The roof must be large enough to accommodate the desired capacity and strong enough to support the weight of the solar panels.



Land availability and ownership are also critical factors in utility-scale solar energy projects. Developers need to secure land that is both suitable for solar installations and available for purchase or lease. In many cases, this involves negotiations with landowners or local communities. It's also essential to consider zoning laws and other local regulations, which may restrict the use of certain lands for solar energy development.



While solar energy has vast potential for clean power generation, careful planning and consideration are required when it comes to land use. It's a balance between finding suitable and available land, meeting the specific requirements of the type of installation, and navigating the complexities of land ownership and local regulations.



Best Locations for Solar Energy


The geographic location significantly affects the potential for utility-scale solar energy. The best places for solar energy are usually locations with high solar irradiance, as it directly influences the amount of energy that can be generated. The size and location of a solar energy installation also determine whether it is distributed or utility-scale.



Research has shown that cool places with high irradiance are the best locations for capturing solar energy. In the United States, regions with the highest total suitable area for utility-scale solar PV development have been identified using GIS analytics and social preference data.



Land availability is another crucial factor affecting the development of utility-scale solar energy projects. A study conducted in Arizona, USA, analyzed how much suitable land is available for utility-scale PV and which scenario best explains Arizona's PV power plant developments.



The selection of the best locations for utility-scale solar energy involves careful consideration of multiple factors, including geographic location, irradiance levels, and land availability. Ongoing research continues to assess and identify regions with high solar potential, contributing to the strategic planning and expansion of utility-scale solar energy projects globally.



Solar Substations


Substations play a vital role in the infrastructure of utility-scale solar energy. A solar power substation serves as an essential link between the power generation source and the end users. Substations take the electricity generated by solar farms and transform the voltage levels to make it suitable for long-distance transmission. This process is crucial because it reduces energy loss and ensures that electricity reaches consumers with the right voltage level.



The proximity of solar farms to substations significantly affects power transmission efficiency. The closer the solar farm is to a substation, the less distance the electricity has to travel, reducing transmission losses. Therefore, when planning the location of a solar farm, it is important to take into account the proximity to existing substations.



However, locating substations involves considering several factors. These include the availability and cost of land, environmental impact, and local regulations. Additionally, the capacity of the substation and the existing grid infrastructure need to be taken into account.



The LandGate platform can be a helpful tool in considering these factors. It provides comprehensive data on substation locations, land availability, pricing, and ownership, which can assist in identifying potential sites for both solar farms. Moreover, the platform's mapping capabilities can provide insights into the proximity to existing substations and grid infrastructure. This can aid in the strategic planning and development of utility-scale solar projects.


screenshot of solar infrastructure on map



Buildability and Permitting


The development of utility-scale solar projects involves several stages, one of the crucial ones being build-ability and permitting. These stages encompass a variety of factors that affect the ease of construction for solar farms, including site accessibility, ground conditions, and the availability of local labor and materials. But what makes land not buildable?



Site accessibility is a key factor in determining the feasibility of construction. The site needs to be easily accessible for heavy machinery and equipment required for the installation of solar panels. Ground conditions also play a significant role. The land must be relatively flat and free of obstructions, such as trees or buildings, that could cast shadows on the panels and decrease their efficiency. The soil conditions must be suitable for the installation of the mounting structures.



Zoning regulations and the permitting process can significantly influence the timeline and cost of solar farm development. Solar projects often need to comply with local land-use regulations, which may restrict the use of certain lands for solar energy development. The permitting process can be complex and time-consuming, involving multiple permits and approvals from local, state, and sometimes federal authorities.



Environmental impact assessments (EIA) are typically a critical part of the permitting process. They identify potential environmental impacts of the proposed project and propose mitigation measures to minimize these impacts. These assessments consider a range of environmental aspects, including impacts on wildlife, water resources, and local ecosystems.



Site Selection Software


screenshot of solar site selection software


LandGate's solar site selection software is part of a suite of cutting-edge tools designed specifically for solar energy project developers. In the rapidly expanding world of renewable energy, finding the perfect site for your solar project can be a challenging task, but utilizing the right site planning software can help streamline the process and get projects to the queue faster.


LandGate's software leverages advanced data science and machine learning algorithms to provide you with comprehensive, real-time insights into potential site locations for your solar energy projects. It evaluates and ranks sites based on various factors such as solar irradiance, land topography, proximity to transmission lines, environmental constraints, and local regulations.



The software is not just about providing data, it's about delivering actionable insights. It allows you to determine the best states for solar farms, visualize and analyze the data in an intuitive and user-friendly interface, examine an interactive solar energy potential map, and aid in site selection and layout, thus enabling you to make informed decisions quickly and confidently.


To learn more about how to put this data to work for you, book a demo with a member of our dedicated energy markets team.

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