The word solar farm goes by many names. If you are new to solar, you probably did not know that a solar farm can also be called a solar power station or a solar park.
For those of you who are using solar, you probably know that. Solar farms have many qualities and problems; they all depend on the weather and the conventional crops you have on your farm.
Crops use energy from the sun to help them grow, and the same sun is the one we use in solar farms to help use electricity.
According to the environmental report that emerged early this year from the (UNFCCC) and (UNDP) United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and United Nations Development Program respectively, there are good reasons why we should all start using solar energy.
Other forms of energy, like fossil fuels, are limited and will probably run out one day. The only renewable source of energy that will never run out is solar energy. That is the reason why we should all invest in renewable energy sources. Our forward thinkers and environmentally conscious readers have already moved to solar or are in the process of moving to solar energy.
If you know what the future holds for renewable energy, you should also start thinking in the same direction. However, if you are still in doubt about whether to go solar or not, our article on ‘ten reasons why you should choose solar and the benefits’ might interest you.
If you never knew, solar panels require almost no maintenance, and that is because they have no moving parts. Once you install a solar panel, you will harness solar energy for years without spending any penny on maintenance.
If that has piqued you, you should probably know that solar energy has been predicted to grow even higher than other energy sources that we have today.
Investing early in solar technology will not only benefit you, but our planet, too, will benefit. Solar energy is safe, clean, and does not harm the environment, unlike other non-renewable sources of energy.
We know that convincing some of you to change into solar energy if you have never used it before might be a bit of a problem. That is why we are writing this article to explain how solar farms work and help you make the most informed decision possible.
Solar Panels and Solar Cells in Solar Farms
Before we begin to explain the whole process of a solar farm, we should explain a solar panel’s nuances. Solar panels are also known as Photovoltaic panels, and they are made of solar cells. Solar cells are the most crucial and essential components when it comes to harnessing power from the sun.
Like any other electrical circuit, solar cells are responsible for creating electricity by generating electrons’ flow. But how does it do it, you may ask! Put it this way, and a solar cell is made of four layers, with the two outermost layers being the conductive plates from which the electrons will flow to the source of power. However, most work happens in the two innermost layers.
The solar electrical magic happens in the innermost layers. They consist of two different silicon types that have been positively charged, consisting of few electrons than the standard silicon and the other, which has been negatively charged with fewer extra electrons than the standard silicon.
It is in these two layers of silicon that photons react to form particles of light. When sunlight hits the solar panel, which we now know is made up of multiple cells, the sun’s rays will knock out from the negatively charged silicon layer. The newly removed electron will then be forced to the outer conductive plate due to the two layers’ inherent charge.
When at the outermost conductive plate, the electron flows to the connecting wires and the destination, which can be a battery or a light in the form of direct current (DC). While one cell can only generate 0.5V, if all the cells are stringed together in one panel, they will increase the energy output even higher.
Let us have an example of 12 solar cells combined; the energy generated from the twelve combined cells can charge your smartphone directly.
If you do the same with a battery, let’s give an example of a power bank, the cells can be used to charge the battery, which stores the energy load and can output, which has enough amperage to charge your phone.
How Big Are Solar Panels in A Solar Farm?
Now that we have discussed how small-scale solar panels and individual solar arrays work let us now get to the commercial or industrial side of solar panels and put everything into perspective.
While a single cell panel or a double panel can be small enough to fit in a power bank, the industrial/commercial size solar panels combine many solar cells.
The solar panels that you see on solar farms consist of at least 72 solar cells combined, and that number might be even more than that depending on the age and size of the solar farm. On average, one 72 sized solar cell consists of 1.5-2 inches in depth, 39 inches wide, and 78 inches long.
A solar panel of this size can generate roughly 400W depending on the efficiency of the solar cells used. This is a whole lot of wattage compared to our previous examples. However, a solar farm does not excel on the size of a single solar panel, but on the sheer quantity of solar panels present in a single farm.
How Big Are Solar Farms?
The first-ever one-megawatt peak (MWp) solar farm was constructed in 1982, with the MWp standing for the farms’ theoretical maximum direct current output. However, since then, solar farms’ efficiency and capacity have only increased with photovoltaics’ technological improvements.
In the late 20th century, the one MWp and ten MWp solar farms were very popular, which has changed with the recent solar power stations in our decade, which were completed or are still constructed, and they will have at least 200MWp.
However, some of the giant mind-blowing solar farms globally have a capacity of One GWp, which is equivalent to 100MWp.
One example is the Tengger Desert Solar Park, which has a capacity of 1,547MWp and was completed in 2016. Surprisingly, the limit does not stop there; solar parks are still under construction, for example, the Pavagada Solar Park in India, which has a planned capacity of Two GWp, which is equivalent to 2,050 MWp.
With such an incredible supply of power, you might think it requires an incredible amount of space, but that is not the case. Some people might be tempted to think that you would need an impossible amount of space for you to get such an excellent capacity for energy, but that would be wrong.
You will be surprised to know that the largest previously mentioned list only takes a space of 20.46 square miles. If we can put that into the world’s perspective, it would be estimated to be tens and hundreds of thousands of square miles to provide enough energy for the entire world. While the Sahara Desert is estimated to be only three million square miles.
So, in short, the space required to provide enough energy for the entire world is very minimal. The most important thing for having a critical and better distribution of solar energy is in the more inferior parts of the world. You can get the most reliable electrical grid when it comes to solar farming.
How Is the Energy Converted in Solar Farms?
Those of you who are scientifically oriented will know that solar panels produce direct current energy (DC), whereas our conventional electrical system produces energy in alternating current (AC).
You may ask yourself, how does the solar panel convert direct current and alternating current, which can be used in our power grid?
Ordinarily, you will find them attached to each solar panel in a solar inverter. A power inverter is typically designed to work with photovoltaic cells. The most common solar inverter today is the “static inverter.”
They do not come with moving parts, and that means less maintenance. Solar inverters also must deal with different changing environmental conditions like temperature and solar irradiation, which may cause troughs and peaks in a solar panel’s DC output.
Therefore to get the most power from an inverter at any given point, the inverter needs to employ the Maximum Power Point Tracking(MPPT). The resistance can be changed to an optimum level, which will subsequently optimize the power output.
With recent technological advancement, solar inverters, also known as solar microinverters, can now be attached to each solar panel to maximize each panel’s output and better maximize the production of the entire planet.
How Solar Farms Maximize the Sun’s Energy
In the past, it was acceptable for solar panels to be installed at a fixed angle where it would be able to capture photon cells throughout the year. But in some seasons, solar intake would be less than the required optimal, and that may be due to the sun’s changing angle when it passes through the sky throughout the year.
In recent years, there has been a significant boost to try and maximize photon cell intake for each solar panel, and that is what we are going to discuss in this section. The earlier development was the single-axis tracking solar panel, which was able to track the sun’s movement through the sky.
While the single-axis tracking solar panel couldn’t follow the sun’s trajectory through the sky because of seasonal changes, it did help to capture enough photons since the solar panel would follow the sun from dawn till dusk.
Then came the dual-axis tracking solar panel. It does the same thing as the single-axis tracking following the sun’s trajectory throughout the season.
Therefore, the photon intake had been fully optimized as far as the normal flat-paneled solar cell goes. However, the future of solar power might be more dynamic and sci-fi than most of us can imagine.
The most recent solar farming development is introducing the potential floating solar panels, also known as photovoltaics.
Even though catching direct sunlight might be ideal, the introduction of the new floating solar arrays can pick any photons that bounce off the water surface, thereby catching photons that did not even hit the solar panel in the first place.
Furthermore, it has been found that the introduction of the new ‘Photovoltaics’ increases the efficiency of the solar panel due to the natural cooling properties of water.
What Else Happens in A Solar Farm?
One might argue that photovoltaic cells are made in conjunction with the preexisting agricultural processes. That is because solar farms are the most nature-friendly way to provide electricity to a power grid. You might then think to yourself that solar farms are made in agricultural areas.
Solar farms do not have any harmful materials which other non-renewable sources like fossil fuels have. That is so because solar farms do not have moving parts, which is present in wind farms. For example, in the United Kingdom, solar farms are used in conjunction with other farming types, like grazing sheep is just a one-way solar farm used in farming.
Furthermore, studies from the Argonne National Laboratory from the US Department of Energy found that solar farms are ‘pollinator-friendly.’
That means the environment present at a solar farm is ideal for pollinators like birds and bees, especially since limited spreading and mowing of herbicides can promote the growth of a vast number of flowers, hence increasing botanical diversity.
It also meant that the owners of solar farms could apply some targeted number of herbicides for weeds and sow seeds that would create an ideal environment for pollinating.
The protection and promotion of bees is something that we should not dismiss so quickly. It is estimated that honeybee pollination adds excellent value to the US agricultural industry every year, contributing more than $15 billion.
You can learn from this section that solar farms can have several agricultural benefits apart from its primary use. Some of the benefits, such as pollinator-friendly environments, are important, significantly when the bees’ population has been declining at an alarming rate.
Final Thoughts on How Solar Farms Work
In this article, we have briefly described what happens in a solar farm and the latest solar farms in the world today.
That is what we had for you, and if you want to get some real-life developments when it comes to solar farms, you can check out our article on solar cell fabrics.
You might want to read that article; it shows more about cell fabrics that can potentially be integrated even into your cloth.