What Is a Solar Farm & How Much Does It Cost?

what is a solar farm

According to Share America, over 2500 solar farms are currently spread out across the United States. 

Thanks to these solar farms, hundreds of thousands of residential homes (among other establishments) have access to clean energy. 

To date, the biggest solar farm in the world is Bhadla Solar Park, which is located in India. 

This solar farm has a capacity of 2,245 MW and is spread across more than 5,700 hectares (14,000 acres). Can you guess how many panels make up this farm?

Over 1,000,000 solar panels, that's how many!

With that being said, solar farms do not always need to be so extreme in size. 

In this article, we look at what a solar farm is, how much they cost to build, and how you could build your own solar farm.

What Is a Solar Farm?

a solar farm

A solar farm is essentially a large group of solar panel arrays, all interconnected to capture as much of the sun's solar irradiance as possible.

Solar arrays with a capacity of 100kW and above are generally considered solar farms.

With that being said, solar farms come in all shapes and sizes, from 100 kW up to 2,245 MW. That's 2,245,000 kW. Can you envision the sheer enormity?

How Much Does It Cost to Build a Solar Farm?

When searching online for this information you are likely to come across conflicting information on the cost to build a solar farm. 

So in order to provide you with the most accurate data we decided to use a popular publication released by the NREL. 

It is called: U.S. Solar Photovoltaic System and Energy Storage Cost Benchmarks: Q1 2021.

To establish the cost of a solar farm we used the following cost benchmarks: 

a solar farm we used the following cost benchmarks

(Please note: All data relevant to the reported results in this report can be found in the NREL Data Catalog.2 Figure ES-1 (page vi) compares our Q1 2021 PV-only benchmarking results to the Q1 2020 National Renewable Energy Laboratory benchmarking analyses.)

This data is incredibly useful as it gives us a rough benchmark on how to estimate the cost of a solar farm based on its total capacity. 

Using the above data this is what you can expect the following solar farm sizes to cost: 

Solar Farm Capacity  Solar Farm Cost
50 kW $82,000
100 kW $164,000
500 kW $820,000
10 MW $8,400,000
50 MW $42,000,000
100 MW $84,000,000
500 MW $420,000,000
1000 MW $840,000,000
2000 MW $1,680,000,000

 

How Do I Get My Land Ready for a Solar Farm?

The most crucial factor to get covered before starting a solar farm is to have the land itself available. 

The amount of land you need really depends on what size (in terms of capacity) you aim to build. 

The more electricity you need to generate, the more land you will require. 

According to GTM Research, a 1 MW solar farm typically needs between 6 to 8 acres of land. 

Once you have acquired the right amount of land, you will need to ensure that it is clear from any obstructions. Land this size is generally farmland, so certain types of crops may need to be cleared before any construction can begin.

How Much Energy Can a Solar Farm Generate?

 what are solar farms

This all depends on what sort of capacity your solar farm is and, most importantly, where in the world it is located.

Locations with higher amounts of solar irradiance are more suitable for any solar installation, including that of a solar farm.

For example, a solar farm in London will produce much less energy than a solar farm in Los Angeles.

This is simply due to the varying degrees of solar irradiance.
Let's see how much solar energy a 10MW solar farm located in California will produce:

Month Solar Radiation
(kWh / m2 / day)
AC Energy
(kWh)
January 3.47 852,640
February 4.08 898,037
March 5.20 1,251,335
April 6.32 1,449,520
May 7.47 1,729,904
June 8.24 1,811,627
July 8.15 1,822,902
August 7.83 1,745,877
September 6.80 1,490,709
October 5.63 1,307,156
November 4.11 948,759
December 3.31 816,029
Annual 5.88 16,124,495

 

Now let's imagine we moved that exact same solar farm to London, how much energy do you think it would produce there?

Month Solar Radiation
( kWh / m2 / day )
AC Energy
( kWh )
January 1.08 277,240
February 1.59 369,731
March 2.45 636,631
April 4.07 1,005,177
May 5.15 1,287,613
June 5.03 1,209,519
July 5.22 1,279,989
August 4.76 1,170,525
September 3.44 833,800
October 2.26 571,479
November 1.31 324,760
December 0.77 194,649
Annual 3.09 9,161,113

 

Look at that, it produces almost half the amount of energy. This has a massive effect on the payback period and ultimately what you will be able to power. 

Now if you were wanting your London solar farm to produce the same amount as if it were located in California, you would need to nearly double the size of your solar farm. 

This of course means you will need double the land, and of course, double the capital. 

I am sure you now see the importance of location, when it comes to solar farm projects.

Final Thoughts

We hope this article gives you a better idea on the costs involved when it comes to building a solar farm.

We also hope you now have a better idea on the rough energy outputs you could come to expect from a solar farm located in California.

Remember, when it comes to solar panel energy output, capacity and solar irradiance available is absolute is key.

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