​what is a solar farm?

​Chances are, you've been driving down the highway or on a back country road and you've stumbled across a vast field of solar panels. This solar power plant might be powering your town, school, or even dozens of homes and businesses in your community.

So, what is a solar farm? How does it work, and how can my home, business or non-profit get in on the action? That's what we're here to show you.

what are solar farms made of?

​Solar farms are built with a few main materials. The racking, panels, inverters, and transformers. All these components work together to generate clean, renewable power that can is safely and efficiently transferred into the grid.

First, solar farms are made of large ground-mounted solar racks that hold thousands of solar panels. These steel and aluminum racks are traditionally pounded 5-6 feet into the ground and affixed to the land without the use of concrete. This allows a solar farm to be decommissioned at the end of its life, returning the land to its natural state with little to no impact whatsoever.

Second, solar panels are affixed to these racks using solar rack rails and spring-loaded bolts. Panels are arranged and interconnected in what is called a string. A string of panels can consist of as few as six and as many as 40 solar panels depending on the layout.

Third, these strings of panels are connected to a series of solar inverters. These solar modules create Direct Current (DC) power.  This DC power is converted into standard Alternating Current(AC) power with an inverter onsite. AC power is the most common type of power used for residential and commercial consumption, allowing it to be fed directly into your home to offset your electric bill or back onto the grid.

Lastly, all the inverters are wired directly into a utility meter and transformer owned by the utility company or grid operator. These pieces of equipment can measure the total output of the solar farm, and help the farm itself be safely connected to the grid. 

who owns the solar farm?

When asking who owns a solar farm, there is often not a simple answer. Solar power is a useful resource for anyone who uses electricity. For that reason, nearly every entity you can think of ranging from individual homeowners to the utility itself can benefit from the installation of a solar farm. Typically; solar farms in New York have one of four main purposes; For the utility, for a business, for subscribers, or individual homeowners.

The largest owners and developers of solar farms in New York are utility companies. Presently, solar power is the cheapest form of energy on the planet. For that reason, utility companies all over the country are developing solar farms to drive down the cost of their power. In 2018, what's referred to as "utility-scale" solar development rose 1000% in NYC alone.

Large businesses often construct solar arrays to help offset their sizeable electric demand as well. Businesses in NYS can build solar farms up to 5MW in size to help bring down their electrical demand and save money. While this type of development is far less common, companies across the state are starting to catch up to utility companies and deploy large renewable installations.

Solar farms often are built for residential and commercial subscribers as well. A central solar developer will build a large solar array, and customers opt into buying power at a discounted rate from that farm in 1-3 year contracts. While subscription is a relatively new frontier in New York, its popularity is proliferating due to the low barriers of entry for consumers.

Lastly, are community-owned solar farms
. With community-owned solar farms, individual homes and businesses own the panels on the farm and all the power produced by them. This decentralized ownership model provides the most significant financial benefit for homes and businesses in that area and allows customers only to purchase as large of a system as they need to offset their costs. 

​WHAT'S THE CATCH?

It all sounds great. Solar farms are centrally located solar projects that benefit hundreds of homes? What's the catch?

Solar farms are quiet, easy to decommission and don't harm the local environment or residents. The farms offset hundreds of thousands of carbon emissions throughout their life-cycle and make sizeable strides towards decarbonizing the grid.  There are virtually zero long-term downsides of solar farm development.

Even still, disinformation and lack of knowledge have led to some communities rejecting solar farm development. Solar farms have been criticized as unsightly and large and can change an otherwise cleared agricultural landscape. Additionally, fencing required by local governments can cause slight changes in wildlife distribution in an area. The reality is that solar farms pose no risk to the local environment, and often actually help the soil on which their built recover due to the lack of fertilizer deployment and increased erosion from farming.

Solar farming is a key tool in reducing climate change, and creating a distributed energy network that powers our future. If you're interested in learning more about community solar farms, check out some of our content below.


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