Solar farm development represents one of the most efficient ways to generate clean energy; it’s relatively inexpensive, easy to implement and there are no emissions involved during energy production. In this piece, we’ll take a look at the three commonly known types of solar farms that are being implemented across the country today: utility-scale, distributed generation and microgrids.
Utility-Scale Solar Farms
Utility-scale solar farms are solar installations that scale up to 1 GW, while spanning over multiple acres of land. According to the Solar Industries Association (SEIA), there are now more than 37,000 MW of utility-scale solar projects currently operating, along with another 12,000 MW under development. What distinguishes these large-scale solar farms from other distributed solar options is the actual size of the project and the power it produces. The energy generated is sold to utility buyers via a power purchase agreement (PPA) or sometimes the farm can be owned by the utility. Utility companies can then distribute the energy to commercial or residential customers that are connected to the utility grid.
Distributed generation refers to a variation of renewable technologies that generate electricity at or near where it will be use. By generating electricity in more locations and closer to the end user, distributed generation helps create greater flexibility and resiliency in our energy infrastructure. The U.S. now has more than 12 million distributed generation units, which is about one-sixth of the size of the nation’s existing centralized power plants.
Programs like community solar are one example of distributed generation, as they’re generally on a smaller scale, allowing room for more clean energy accessibility. DG project sizes can range anywhere from a small residential rooftop to a solar project large enough to provide clean energy within an entire community. Larger projects are generally located at a closer proximity to homes and businesses and where they can be interconnected with the existing grid. Distributed generation projects often have the benefit of improving the electricity grid since developers often fund improvements at the point of interconnection.
What are microgrids? Well, they are exactly what they sound like, small-scale version of a larger electrical grid that generates clean local energy directly to a community or group of users. Older microgrids relied on diesel generators but today they are increasingly powered by green technology. Newer designs are now incorporating a combination of solar plus battery storage, which can allow them to continue operating even when there is an outage due to severe weather. Resilience is among one of many benefits of a microgrid as they can instantly restore power to a building as soon as an outage occurs. For example, hospitals are an important asset to their communities. Microgrids can provide efficient, clean energy while also enhancing resiliency, and improving the operation and stability of a hospital facility should the power go out.
Microgrids built on solar and storage are forecasted to expand even more rapidly on a state and federal level as part of combating climate change and building a more resilient energy grid.
The shift to renewable energy projects offers obvious benefits for the climate and public health. And as their technology continues to mature, it’s important that we see it as an opportunity to pave the path towards a 100% clean energy future.