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Solar Farm Land Requirements: Things You Need to Know

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According to forecasts by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), home solar power is expected to grow by around 6,000 to 7,000 MW per year between 2023 and 2027.

A solar land lease can provide an additional revenue stream for landowners with minimal effort.

Solar developers in the U.S. are actively looking for suitable land for solar farm projects in 2023.

However, not all land parcels are suitable for such development.

The specific requirements may vary, but there are common factors that contribute to a successful solar farm.

On average, a solar farm requires approximately 5 to 10 acres of land per megawatt (MW) of installed capacity. This means a 1 MW solar farm would need between 5 to 10 acres, a 5 MW solar farm would need between 25 to 50 acres, and so on.

With proper planning and continuous efficiency innovations, the solar industry is working to optimize land utilization and reduce pressures on existing land resources from the widespread deployment of photovoltaic and concentrated solar power farms.

What Is Solar Zone and Why Is It Important?

The solar zone refers to a designated area that is specifically reserved for the installation of solar panels.

This area must be unshaded, free from any penetrations, and devoid of obstructions to ensure optimal solar energy generation.

By identifying and setting aside a solar zone, property owners, architects, and builders can plan for future solar installations more effectively, taking into consideration the best positioning and orientation for maximum sunlight exposure.

In the case of single-family residential buildings, the solar zone is typically situated on the roof or an overhanging section of the structure.

This location enables the solar panels to capture sunlight efficiently while minimizing potential interference from surrounding elements.

By establishing a solar zone on a property, homeowners can demonstrate their commitment to sustainable energy practices and pave the way for a seamless transition to solar energy, contributing to a greener and more energy-efficient living environment.

Top 5 Solar Farms Land Requirements 

1. Land Size

If the land parcel isn’t spacious enough to accommodate a solar farm, the project may not proceed.

As a rule, solar developers typically need at least 10 acres of viable land, or 200 acres for a utility-scale project.

As a general rule of thumb, it takes approximately 6 to 8 acres to install the solar equipment and panel rows for a 1 MW (megawatt) site.

However, local municipalities and authorities often don’t permit the entire parcel to be covered. They’re likely to approve coverage of approximately 60% of the total acreage for the solar PV project.

Therefore, using the 10-acre minimum as an example, only 6 acres will be used after considering setbacks and zoning restrictions.

2. Land Considerations

While flat land is generally preferred for solar farm development, it is not always a strict requirement.

Developers have been able to construct solar farms on sites with gentle slopes or even rolling hills.

In fact, having a slight slope (5 degrees maximum) to the south or east can be beneficial as it increases the system’s exposure to the sun.

However, significant floodplain or wetland issues can pose challenges for solar farm development.

3. Proximity To Utility Infrastructure

The feasibility of a solar farm depends on the size, quality, and location of the land.

It is suggested that the land should be within 1,000 feet of three-phase power and 2 miles of a substation to keep interconnection costs low.

Increased distance from the grid raises these costs, making the land less attractive to developers.

Easy access to main roads and proximity to a large town or city can also reduce costs and provide the necessary infrastructure for the project.

Due to increased interconnection upgrade costs, it is advised against connecting solar facilities at the end of a circuit.

Standard upgrade costs include primary metering, reclosures, and substation fuse upgrades, with particularly expensive reconductoring.

The average cost to run three-phase power to a solar farm in the Northeast U.S. is $500,000 per mile of electrical feeder, with the ideal voltage for a solar farm being 12 kV – 32.4 kV.

4. Permitting And Approval Processes

The feasibility of a solar farm project is heavily influenced by local laws and regulations. Despite the size or quality of the land, if the local policy does not permit the construction and interconnection of a solar farm, the project cannot move forward.

  1. Local Policy and Regulations: A clear path to construction and interconnection is crucial for a developer and landowner to successfully implement a solar farm. If there are immediate issues with construction permits or land limits, the project becomes unfeasible.
  2. Zoning Laws and Land Use Regulations: The absence or restrictiveness of regulations and laws surrounding renewable energy projects are common in areas with fewer such projects.
  3. Community Interests: Community concerns, such as the requirement for screening and visual buffers, are typically significant. For instance, in the Hudson Valley region in upstate New York, most towns require solar farm screening according to local town codes.
  4. Environmental and Conservation Factors: Certain areas must be preserved for environmental or conservation purposes. If the land is home to a protected species of plant or animal, it must be left undeveloped.

5. Flooding Potential

The viability of a solar farm project depends on various factors, including flood risk.

  1. Flood Risk Assessment: Before starting the construction of a solar farm, it is mandatory to conduct a flood risk assessment. If the assessment indicates a high risk of flooding, the project is less likely to proceed.
  2. Land Location: The location of the land doesn’t automatically rule out a solar farm, even if it’s on a floodplain. For instance, in New York, flood stage data for most rivers is accessible, which can help in planning a solar project in such areas.
  3. Project Planning: If the land is located on a floodplain, the solar project can still proceed. However, it requires meticulous planning to ensure the solar equipment is sturdy and elevated enough to resist potential flooding.
  4. Project Cost: It’s crucial to note that implementing additional measures to safeguard the solar equipment from flooding could lead to increased project costs.

Future Of Solar Farms

The future of solar farms looks promising, with significant growth expected in the coming years.

The United States installed over 1,500 MW of capacity through home solar systems in a single quarter, a record-breaking achievement.

Forecasts from the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) suggest that home solar power will continue to grow by around 6,000 to 7,000 MW per year between 2023 and 2027.

To achieve a zero-carbon grid with enhanced electrification of end uses, solar capacity would need to reach 1,000 GWac by 2035 and 1,600 GWac by 2050.

This would require a significant ramp-up in solar deployment, with an average annual growth rate of 30 GWac between now and 2025 and 60 GWac between 2025 and 2030.

Solar Energy Development Environmental Considerations

Solar power facilities significantly reduce the environmental impacts caused by fossil fuel power generation, such as greenhouse gas emissions and other air pollutants.

Compared to fossil fuel facilities, solar facilities have extremely low emissions of pollutants like sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds, and carbon dioxide during operations.

Besides these environmental benefits, solar development also promotes direct and indirect employment and additional income in the regions where the development takes place.

However, solar power facilities also have potential adverse impacts that need to be considered in the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) process of granting solar right-of-way authorizations and the Department of Energy’s (DOE) process of developing environmental guidance for solar facilities.

The construction of solar facilities involves clearing and grading large land areas, leading to soil compaction, possible alteration of drainage channels, and increased runoff and erosion. These impacts can be mitigated using engineering methods.

Solar systems like parabolic troughs and central towers typically use conventional steam plants that consume water for cooling. In arid regions, this can strain available water resources.

Furthermore, the use or spillage of chemicals at solar facilities may contaminate surface or groundwater.

The construction and operation of solar facilities also generate particulate matter, a significant pollutant, particularly in Class I areas under Prevention of Significant Deterioration regulations, such as national parks and wilderness areas.

More environmental considerations can be found in this article.

What Is The Average Land Requirement For A Solar Farm?

The average land requirement for a solar farm can vary greatly depending on the type of solar technology used and the location.

However, on average, it’s estimated that solar farms in the USA require about 5.5 acres per megawatt AC (MWac) for fixed-tilt solar photovoltaic (PV) power plants.

The geographical characteristics and solar irradiance of the area play crucial roles in determining the actual land requirement.

What Permits Are Required For Constructing A Solar Farm?

When constructing a solar farm, several permits are typically required to ensure compliance with local and state regulations.

If the land disruption associated with building a solar panel farm is expected to exceed 1 acre in size, NPDES permit coverage is required.

For solar panel farms that disturb more than one acre, a stormwater management permit may be required.

This permit ensures proper erosion and sediment control during construction activities.

Each county and municipality may have its own set of regulations and permitting requirements.