Solar is the better way to generate utility-scale power (also known as solar farm or solar power station). Just like your rooftop solar panels, solar farms or solar power stations work the same way except in a much bigger scale. Imagine most homes currently have solar panels capable of producing between 3kW to 5kW (that is 3000 Watts to 5000 Watts) of clean electricity. The panels on the solar farm are capable of producing between 5MW to 2GW (5,000,000 Watts to 2,000,000,000 Watts) of clean electrical power for export into and use by the national main electricity grid. And just like normal electricity, they are transported along the high voltage transmission lines to your local distribution substations and eventually into your businesses and your homes.
A key benefit of solar, especially here in Australia, is that solar farms generate the most electricity on sunny days, which are generally the time that electrical demand peaks (because of air conditioning use in summer). On the few extremely hot days in Australian summer, typically around six to nine days each year, air conditioning usage loads and cause the electricity demand to double relative to average demand levels. Air conditioning plays an important role in maintaining reasonable levels of comfort for customers and is critical for the health of many customers. Customers expect our electrical network system providers to build sufficient capacity in our network infrastructure to meet these peak demands that occur for less than 2% of the year. Therefore by installing more clean-renewable energy solar power farms will put extra clean electricity into our national electricity grid at the time it is needed most. This extra clean renewable energy in turn offsets the traditional (“dirty power”) coal and gas fired power stations generation.
Siting and land use
The land area required for a desired power output, varies depending on the location and on the efficiency of the solar modules, the slope of the site and the type of mounting used. The best locations for solar farms in terms of land use are brown field sites or where there is no other valuable land use. However, even in cultivated areas, a significant proportion of the land for a solar farm can also be devoted to other productive uses, such as crop growing, sheep grazing or biodiversity. Many solar farms contract with local farmers who pasture sheep during the spring, summer and autumn when the grass is growing. The sheep control the grass, so that it does not grow up and shade the solar panels. A gutter to the bottom of some of the rows of the solar panels are able to collect rainwater for the sheep to drink. We do not use goats or cows because they might eat the electric wires or jump up on or rub against the solar panels.
What happens at the end of the solar farm life ?
The solar panels are manufactured and warranted to generate electric power for at least 25-30 years, and we anticipate that the solar farms installed now may remain in the field generating power for 30 years or more. At the end of the useful life of the solar panels, the entire system can be removed and recycled. The component metals of the solar system, steel, aluminum and copper can be recycled, and their value is higher than the cost of removing the system. We install panels on driven metal pilings rather than concrete, so that at the end of the solar farm’s useful life, the solar panels and pilings can be removed with little trouble and the land left clean and looking like before the solar farm was installed.