Solar power was responsible for over 2% of the world’s energy usage in 2018 and is the fastest-growing renewable energy source available today. In 2019, over 2.5% of the world’s energy usage was solar. There is no question as to why solar is growing so quickly, enough solar radiation reaches the Earth’s surface in one day for solar panels to power the whole world for over a year!
Subscribers to Common Energy are accessing solar energy through community solar farms, which is an efficient way to support renewable energy without installing solar panels on your own roof.
Solar farms are usually built on retired farmland or warehouse roofs, anywhere there is a plentiful amount of unused, open space. Solar farms are also known as solar parks or solar power stations, they create mass amounts of energy just like any other power plant. Utility-scale solar farms can produce up to 2,000 MW, and community solar farms are generally under 5 MW. To produce 1 MW, six to eight acres of land is needed.
Many photovoltaic cells, or solar panels, are generally arranged at ground level facing south to optimize the amount of radiation they receive from the Sun. Solar panels are generally made of silicon, phosphorus, and boron on a metal frame encased in glass. A single solar panel is many photovoltaic cells arranged together to make one big panel, and a solar farm is made up of many solar panels. A solar farm is really just an expanded solar panel.
Small community solar projects can connect to the grid through a distribution line, very similar to the transmission line that connects to homes from the utility. These kinds of solar farms are within one mile of what they are powering in order to be cost-effective enough to compete with the energy generated from fossil fuels.
All solar farms need to be somewhat close to the distribution line or substation to be financially viable. Larger utility operated solar farms connect to a substation that distributes the energy it generates. A substation converts the energy generated into high voltage electricity that can travel long distances through generation ties, and then back into the low voltage electricity used to power homes.