What is a solar farm?

These large-scale installations cultivate clean energy

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Solar farms generate clean and renewable energy on a massive scale by tapping into the abundant power of the sun. As the world seeks greener alternatives to traditional energy sources — like solar energy — these solar farms contribute to sustainability, reduced reliance on fossil fuels and potential cost savings on electricity bills while promoting energy independence.

Key insights

  • Solar farms are substantial installations consisting of photovoltaic (PV) solar panels that generate clean and renewable energy.
  • There are different types of solar farms, including utility-scale solar farms and community solar farms, each serving different purposes and benefiting different stakeholders.
  • Before starting a solar farm, consider factors like land requirements, permits and regulations, engineering, design and financing.
  • Solar farms offer several benefits, including environmental advantages, energy independence, cost savings and potential revenue generation.

How solar farms work

Solar farms are massive installations consisting of photovoltaic (PV) solar panels that convert sunlight into electricity. Unlike rooftop systems, solar farms are ground-mounted and come in various shapes and sizes. They serve as massive power plants, generating clean energy for widespread consumption.

Solar farms use panels with solar cells to capture sunlight and turn it into electricity. These panels create a stream of electrons, producing direct current (DC) electricity. DC electricity isn’t suitable for homes and businesses, however, so it goes through inverters to convert it into alternating current (AC) electricity. The AC electricity is then connected to the electrical grid, supplying power to homes, businesses and communities.

Types of solar farms

There are a few different types of solar farms, but the two major types are utility-scale solar farms and community solar farms.

Learn more about solar energy and the benefits of solar farms by attending educational workshops and events.

Utility-scale solar farms

Utility-scale solar farms, also known as solar power plants or solar parks, are massive areas filled with solar panels. These installations can generate hundreds of megawatts of electricity, enough power to supply electricity to thousands of homes and businesses.

Community solar farms

Community solar farms, also called solar gardens or shared solar projects, are smaller-scale solar initiatives that bring renewable energy to local communities. These farms are more affordable and accessible than utility-scale farms, and they provide an opportunity for individuals and businesses to invest in a portion of the solar installation and receive energy credits or reduced electricity bills in return.

» MORE: What is community solar?

How to start a solar farm

Before making the jump and starting a solar farm, it's crucial to consider the various steps involved in the process — No. 1 of which is ensuring it’s feasible in your area. A feasibility check, which includes an assessment of solar resources and environmental impact, a financial analysis and a technical assessment, is foundational for any solar farm project — so make sure to work with experienced solar professionals.

Work with experienced solar engineers and consultants to ensure thorough assessments during the feasibility check and a reliable analysis of your site.

1. Assess solar resources

To gauge the solar energy potential of a site, you need to analyze historical weather data and solar radiation levels. This helps you determine how much sunlight the area receives and whether it’s sufficient for generating enough electricity from solar panels.

PRO TIP: The Environmental Protection Agency has a resource called the RE-Powering Mapper for finding an ideal site for a solar farm.

2. Analyze finances

For you to ensure the success of your solar farm, it’s crucial to conduct thorough research on reputable suppliers and obtain competitive quotes for essential components (such as solar panels, inverters, mounting structures and electrical components). You should also budget for site preparation, panel mounting, electrical wiring and grid connection, taking into account labor and associated installation costs.

» MORE: How much do solar panels cost?

It’s important to allocate funds for periodic maintenance, like panel cleaning, monitoring and repairs. By considering these costs upfront, you can plan for the long-term sustainability and financial viability of your solar farm.

You can also explore financing options like loans, power purchase agreements (PPAs) and partnerships with investors. Explore financial incentives like tax credits, grants and rebates offered by government entities or utility companies to ensure seamless grid connection and potential offtake agreements.

» LEARN: How do solar loans work?

3. Conduct a technical assessment

Examine your land availability, grid connectivity and potential technical limitations. This ensures the site has enough space for solar panels, access to transmission lines for connecting to the grid and minimal obstacles (e.g., shading or physical barriers) that could hinder solar energy production.

4. Assess the environmental impact

It’s critical to evaluate potential ecological effects and ensure compliance with environmental regulations. This helps identify any adverse impacts on local wildlife, habitats or ecosystems and find ways to minimize or mitigate them.

5. Secure permits and regulations

Familiarize yourself with local permits, zoning regulations and utility interconnection requirements. Engage with relevant authorities and utility companies to obtain necessary permits and approvals.

6. Consider engineering and design

Collaborate with experienced solar engineers to design an efficient and effective solar farm layout. This includes optimizing panel arrangement, electrical system design and grid interconnection plans.

Benefits of solar farms

When done right, solar farms can both benefit the environment and benefit you financially.

  • Environmental impact: Solar farms reduce carbon emissions and help combat climate change by generating clean, renewable energy. By harnessing the power of the sun, they help mitigate the environmental impact associated with traditional energy sources. This transition away from fossil fuels is essential to creating a greener and more sustainable planet.
  • Energy independence: Solar farms provide an opportunity for homes and businesses to generate their own electricity, reducing reliance on external energy sources. This independence offers stability, especially during power grid outages or disruptions, ensuring a consistent power supply.
  • Cost savings: Solar energy can lead to substantial cost savings on electricity bills. By utilizing solar power, solar farms help homeowners and businesses to generate their own energy and potentially offset their consumption from the grid. (For example, as of publishing, community solar subscribers in California receive a 5% to 10% discount off traditional electricity costs over the course of a year.)
  • Revenue generation: In certain cases, solar farms can generate additional revenue streams. With net metering or feed-in tariffs, for instance, excess electricity can be sold back to the grid. This arrangement can result in significant financial benefits for solar farm owners. By producing and selling surplus energy, solar farms have the potential to generate revenue and contribute to their long-term financial sustainability.

» MORE: Greenest states in the U.S.

Find a Solar Energy partner near you.


    What is the life span of a solar farm?

    Solar panels typically have a life span of 25 to 30 years, although efficiency may decline slightly over time. Regular maintenance ensures optimal performance and longevity.

    Are there any potential health risks associated with living near a solar farm?

    Solar farms pose minimal health risks to nearby residents. The electromagnetic fields generated by solar panels are generally low and considered safe. Additionally, solar farms don’t emit pollutants or produce noise pollution, making them environmentally friendly and non-disruptive to local communities.

    What happens to a solar farm during extreme weather conditions?

    Solar farms are designed to withstand various weather conditions, including extreme weather events. They’re built with sturdy materials and undergo rigorous engineering to ensure durability and resilience. During severe storms or hurricanes, however, it’s smart to take precautions (e.g., securing the panels and temporarily shutting down the system) to avoid damage.

    Article sources
    ConsumerAffairs writers primarily rely on government data, industry experts and original research from other reputable publications to inform their work. Specific sources for this article include:
    1. EnergySage, “ Community solar in California .” Accessed June 8, 2023.
    2. Environmental Protection Agency, “ How to Identify Sites .” Accessed June 8, 2023.
    3. American Clean Power, “ Utility-scale solar power facts .” Accessed June 8, 2023.
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