Types of Solar Farms

Solar Farm

Publish Date:

1400/08/26

Post-Pandemic Economic and Development Challenges for Solar industry

The latest cash crop to arrive on farm fields: solar panels. That’s right — Solar Farms are sprouting up across America in all shapes and sizes, from small ones that light up local communities to gigantic, utility-scale Solar Farms that power thousands of homes. In the last decade alone, solar has experienced an average annual growth rate of 49%. Much of this growth is due to the number of Solar Farms popping up around the U.S. Today, there’s enough solar power on the grid to power 15.7 million homes.1 Now, that’s a lot of electricity from sunshine to go around. Let’s talk more about Solar Farms, the different types of farms out there and the specifics such as the cost, the power output and more.

What is a Solar Farm?

A Solar Farm is a large collection of photovoltaic (PV) solar panels that absorb energy from the sun, convert it into electricity and send that electricity to the power grid for distribution and consumption by customers like you. Solar Farms — which you’ll sometimes see being called solar parks or photovoltaic power stations — are usually mounted to the ground instead of rooftops and come in all shapes and sizes. That’s just one side of the Solar Farm coin! The other consists of the thousands of smaller-scale farms the industry refers to as community solar or solar gardens.

Types of Solar Farms

Of the tens of thousands of solar panel installations in the U.S., they can be grouped into two types of Solar Farms, both based on size.

Utility-scale

Community solar

Utility-Scale Solar Power

First and foremost, the phrase “utility-scale” can be a bit misleading. Technically, all solar energy projects — whether it’s a few rooftop panels or a whole acre of them — are “on the grid” providing the local utility company with solar-powered electricity. The only time a solar energy project is not truly utility-scale is when it’s completely disconnected from the grid and not connected through a power line. This is almost never the case.

But for our purposes and most discussions of this nature, utility-scale Solar Farms refer to those massive areas of land where solar panels stretch beyond the horizon. Such installations consist of hundreds of thousands of solar panels that absorb energy from the sun, generate an electric current and distribute that power on high-voltage power lines. The electricity travels along those power lines to the electricity grid, eventually making its way to your home.

A utility-scale Solar Farm (often referred to as simply a solar power plant) is a large Solar Farm consisting of many solar panels and is owned by a utility that sends electricity to the grid. Depending on the installation’s geographic location, the power produced at these farms is either sold to wholesale utility buyers through a power purchase agreement (PPA) or owned directly by an electric utility company. Regardless of the exact structure, the original customer of the solar power is a utility, who then distributes the generated electricity to residential, commercial, and industrial customers connected to the grid.

Community Solar Farms

The idea of community solar has taken off in recent years as more homeowners have realized that they can go solar without putting solar panels on their own physical roof. A community Solar Farm—sometimes referred to as a “solar garden” or roofless solar —is a farm whose electricity is shared by more than one household. In most cases, a community solar array is a large ground mount installation that spans one or many acres.

Visually, these solar gardens resemble utility-scale Solar Farms, but they are often smaller in size. Customers can either purchase a share of a solar garden and own that portion of the overall array or they can lease energy from the solar system and, in a sense, replace their monthly utility payments with monthly community solar payments that are typically at a lower price.

Community Solar Farms are small-scale solar facilities that generate around 5 MW of electricity for a local community of homes and businesses. The power is shared among everyone who participates in the program. Depending on the number of residents and the amount of production, the residents could get a reduction in their electricity bill for investing in this solar project.

Here’s how it works:

The solar panels are installed in a large, open area of the neighborhood that receives maximum exposure to sunlight.

The solar energy gets fed into the larger electricity grid for the region.

People who joined the solar program will see their energy bill adjusted for the amount of energy generated in relation to the size of their home.

This is possible with technology called “virtual net metering.” Your retail energy company will credit your bill for the amount of electricity your community Solar Farm generates in proportion to your home’s energy load.

difference between Community solar and utility-scale solar

Community solar also differs from utility-scale solar because it’s considered distributed energy or distributed generation resource (DER). The electricity produced by the community Solar Farm is used to power the homes within a close range. Thus, they’re less likely to lose power if the grid goes down.

In contrast, electricity made by utility-scale Solar Farms can travel for miles and miles until it reaches its destination, be it your home or business. Ultimately, both have unique benefits that move the solar industry forward!

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