If you have done any research into the world of solar power, you have likely come across the term “Solar Farms”. This might initially lead you to think of agriculture. More specifically, farms that use solar power to fulfill their energy requirements. This is actually not quite what solar farms are. Solar farms are also referred to as solar parks or solar power stations. Rather than being solar powered agricultural solutions, they are large scale solar power production areas. Large quantities of solar panels and inverters are placed in solar farms which are located in areas of high sunlight density. This is done so that an optimal amount of solar power can be derived from such areas.
Recent reports from global organizations such as the UN are indicating that our plane is rapidly hurtling towards a climate catastrophe. This has lead to some concern. The average consumer is finding it increasingly important to switch to renewable forms of energy. Solar farms are a great way to scale solar energy production up. This can make electricity generated from renewable sources easier for the average person to access.
Even if you don’t take environmental factors into account, the global switch to renewable energy seems inevitable. After all, non renewable energy sources are finite. Eventually they will run out. Hence, when there are no other energy options available, renewable power will end up being the only source of electricity humanity has. By this point the rush to adopt solar power will be quite overwhelming. It would be better for the average person to get in on solar power sooner rather than later when it would be far more difficult to do. Solar farms are therefore a great investment if you think about how easy they can make solar power access.
With that said, simply reading that solar farms are a good idea won’t be enough. You need an in depth analysis of how they work. This can help you get a balanced view with regards to their long term viability. Read on to understand all of the intricate details surrounding solar farms and their applications. By the end of this article you should be able to safely assume that solar farms are the way of the future, and that they will solve most if not all of humanity’s energy problems.
The Most Crucial Solar Farm Components
Solar farms are more than the sum of their parts. However, before we start to understand the whole, we must first analyze its parts. In the case of solar farms, perhaps the most crucial components are the photovoltaic solar panels that they use. The science behind solar panels can seem daunting for some. However, if you were to actually delve into their intricacies you’d see that the process by which they convert solar power into electricity that anyone can use is actually not that difficult to understand.
A solar panel consists of two things: metal electrodes and silicon layers. Two layers of solar cells made out of silicon are sandwiched between two electrodes. The electrodes are essentially plates of metal that are responsible for conducting electricity. Whatever electricity a solar panel produces is relayed through these electrodes to the power source that is responsible for distributing this electricity.
However, it’s the two layers of silicon that are responsible for producing this electricity in the first place. Both layers are made of the same material but they are also slightly different from each other. One layer will have a relatively smaller number of electrons than the other. The one with more electrons will be negatively charged whereas the one with fewer electrons is positively charged.
Everything is made out of minute particles that can only be observed with powerful microscopes. Light is no different. The particles that all light, including sunlight, is made out of are called photons. The photons from sunlight hit the silicon solar cells. This adds more energy to the electrons. Since one of the layers of silicon is negatively charged, the faster vibrating electrons will be able to break free. The positive charge of the other silicon layer pushes these electrons away and they enter the aforementioned electrodes after which they are transmitted through external wire circuits to the power source.
A single solar cell on its own is perhaps not that impressive. It can only generate about 0.5 volts of electricity, after all. However multiple solar cells, each generating 0.5 volts, can come together to power many objects. Just 12 solar cells are enough to charge the average phone with a power bank. Even the smallest of solar panels contain at least 32 cells which is enough to produce over 15 volts of electricity. Most solar arrays have at least twenty solar panels in them even if they are very small scale. This shows just how effective an entire farm of solar panels can be.
The Importance of Energy Conversion
This somewhat simplified explanation of how solar panels work might lead you to believe that all the electricity produced is ready to use. More science savvy people would notice that the electricity produced is a direct current, though. This is a problem because most modern appliances require an alternating current. Hence, it is important to convert the direct current produced by solar panels into alternating currents before the electricity can be used to power everyday objects necessary for a high quality of life.
Solar inverters are used to facilitate this energy conversion. These are special inverters that are designed to work with the specific type of solar cells used in solar panels. If you are thinking of getting a solar inverter, consider getting a static one. Static inverters don’t need to be moved around at all. They can be kept in one place where they will keep doing their job. A lower number of moving parts means that a lot less maintenance will be required.
Weather conditions and climate can impact solar power production. The output of a solar panel can go up or down depending on what the ambient temperature as along with what kind of weather conditions an area might be experiencing. Hence, solar inverters need to adjust resistance to suit the level of output. Maximum power point tracking can be useful here. This adjusts resistance and maximizes flow of energy. Power output can remain consistent regardless of the DC output each solar panel might be giving out. This can prevent voltage fluctuations as well which can be very damaging for most appliances.
Up until now, large scale arrays usually have a few inverters. Each inverter provides resistance for the output of multiple solar panels. However, technical innovations in solar panels happen all the time. New kinds of solar inverters are being released that work a little differently. Instead of one inverter for a whole array, you have micro inverters that can be attached to each solar panels. This is great because it doesn’t treat the solar array as a monolith. Individual panels can have different output levels. Managing output at the source can greatly increase overall electricity production. Small improvements like this can eventually make solar power far more efficient than it currently is.
Optimizing Solar Power Efficiency
The manner in which solar panels are installed has changed quite a bit in recent years. Previously the best thing you could do was find an optimal angle and keep each solar panel there. This worked fairly well considering the limits of technology at the time. It had several drawbacks, though. The sun’s angle doesn’t stay the same all day long. Solar panel angles were usually calculated based on the sun’s peak angle. Constant adjustments throughout the day just weren’t practical. Hence, there was a limit to how efficient you could make solar panels by optimizing their angle.
Needless to say, many advancements have been made in this regard. Single axis tracking was perhaps the first significant breakthrough for optimizing photon intake for each solar cell. This allowed solar panels to automatically adjust their angles based on what time of day it was. A rough following of the sun’s trajectory did a lot to boost photon intake at all hours of the day. Power production was vastly more efficient not just at noon when the sun was at its peak but during the sun’s rising and setting as well.
This was a clear step in the right direction but a lot more work needed to be done. After all, while the sun’s angle changes throughout the day it also changes based on the season. The sun will have a different route in the winter as opposed to summer. Once again, constant changes just aren’t feasible. You want your solar farm to automatically adjust itself. This is where dual tracking came in.
Dual tracking is the next step in this technology. It finally allows automatic adjustments to be made not just for the sun’s daily trajectory but for its seasonal changes as well. This is one of the most accurate tracking systems ever created for a solar panel.
When it comes to all technology, particularly solar technology, sometimes advancement happens so fast that previously cutting edge technology suddenly becomes obsolete. This might happen with tracking tech as well. New forms of solar panels are being created that float on the water. These panels don’t just rely on energy from the sun itself. They also absorb light reflected off the water. This makes it less important to track the sun. A lot of sunlight just doesn’t enter the panels at all. Floating panels can finally change this.
Floating panels have another benefit too. Water has natural cooling properties. The hotter a panel gets the less efficient it can be. This is a paradox that poses a real problem with solar power. Water can cool the panels down and keep them working at maximum efficiency. The adoption of floating panels can vastly increase solar power production. A small solar farm might end up having the output of a medium farm.
Other Solar Farm Details
While we have previously said that solar farms and regular farms aren’t necessarily connected, the latter can benefit quite a bit from the former. While solar farms can be great at providing electricity to everyone, they are especially useful for farms.
All farms require energy. While cities can produce energy and not care about pollutions and emissions, the same can’t be said from farms. If farms use polluting energy sources, this can affect ambient air quality. What’s more is that this can decrease the quality of crops. Maintaining a clean environment is essential for farms, and solar farms allow excellent energy production without any of the pollution that fossil fuels cost. Other renewable energy sources are also used such as wind energy. However, wind energy has a lot of moving parts. This means that producing it requires a lot more maintenance.
Lots of studies have been conducted that suggest really big benefits for agriculture if solar farms are used. Livestock grazing is already being facilitated through the use of solar farms in the UK. Perhaps the most dramatic benefit of solar farms is that they can help facilitate pollination. Pollination friendly energy sources are seen as vital to long term honeybee survival. Honeybee populations have been dropping drastically for many years now. Preventing this decline is important because bees are essential to the entire ecosystem even if you don’t particularly like honey.
The US department of energy has commented on the bee-friendly nature of solar power. Solar farms are environmentally friendly. The lack of foreign pollutants leads to a lot more diversity in plant life. More flowers means more potential pollination spots for bees. This benefits the environment quite a bit. It also benefits the economy by a pretty amazing amount. If bees stop pollinating flowers then the US would lose out on $15 billion each year. Increasing biodiversity is important for making the planet a better place and ensuring long term human survival. Solar power can hence reverse some of the damage humans have caused so far.
Size Specifications For Solar Farms & Panels
Phones can be charged with about a dozen solar cells but a larger number is required for solar farms. The electricity production here is supposed to be on a massive scale, so it’s likely that most farms are going to have much larger solar panels. Industrial solar farms usually have very large solar panels, the kinds that you probably won’t see in a residential setup. This is because commercial solar power production requires massive output in order to make projects economically viable as well as profitable.
An average solar farm panel will have around 72 solar cells. A panel with this many cells will by approximately 78 inches long by 39 wide, and it will have an average thickness of a couple of inches. This isn’t really that large if you think about it. A solar panel of this size is still relatively portable, and it manages to produce around 400 watts of energy, or 0.4 megawatts. This should put into perspective how much power solar energy can produce with panels that are pretty small even when they are on the larger end of the spectrum.
That said, solar farms don’t usually focus on each individual solar panel. Rather, they focus on having enough solar panels that a large amount of power can be produced. While real world factors mean that optimal production is almost never met, most solar farms still calculate their total output in a perfect scenario. This is referred to as Maximum Theoretical Output, and it is calculated in megawatt-peaks or MWp.
In the early 80s, a solar farm managed to cross the coveted 1 MWp threshold. This was fairly impressive, but modern technology has made this number seem miniscule. Now a single solar panel can produce nearly half as much as what this solar farm’s whole array could generate.
Towards the end of the 20th Century, 1 MWp solar farms had become quite common. A lot of solar farms had also started producing 10 megawatts by this point. Now, though, most solar farms that are about to be completed or have recently been finished plan on producing at least 200 megawatts at peak levels. This should tell you just how rapidly the technology is advancing. To put things further into perspective, these 200 MWp solar farms aren’t even the most impressive examples of solar energy production.
China currently has the solar farm with the highest peak output, namely the Tengger Desert Solar Park. The peak output of their farm has managed to cross 1 gigawatt, or 1,000 megawatts to be precise. This is a number that would have seemed unthinkable not too long ago, yet it is a number that the Tengger Desert Solar Park has crossed quite effectively. The park’s current maximum output sits at 1.547 GWp, or 1,547 MWp.
The record only counts currently operational solar parks, though. Plenty of solar farms are already underway that will have the capacity to produce far more energy. The Pavagada Solar Park in India, for example, plans on crossing the 2 GWp mark. Plenty of solar farms with this much capacity are being constructed. With technological advancements happening so frequently, it’s likely that 100 GWp or even 1 TWp, or terawatt, solar farms might soon be constructed.
These solar farms with their massive outputs don’t even require all that much area either. The Tengger Desert Solar Park is a little over 20 square miles, a tiny area compared to how much energy it produces. More advanced solar tech means that greater energy production will be possible with less land. A 20 square mile solar park might soon be able to produce many times more power than is currently possible.
It can often be difficult to wrap one’s head around land area and sizes so we have a handy example for you. The Sahara desert is about 3 million square miles. If only 5% of the desert was converted into a solar farm, the energy needs of the entire human population could be met! This is by far the most effective way to produce electricity if you look at the long term.
Solar farms can produce a lot of electricity from a very small patch of land. Instead of drilling in the oceans and deserts, we could lead the world as pristine as beautiful as it has always been and still manage to keep the lights on. The advantages of solar farms are becoming increasingly obvious each year. Soon no amount of lobbying from fossil fuel companies will be able to stop the solar tide!