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Site Selection for a Solar Power Plant

Vegard J. Løwe - Co-Founder & CFO/COO

September 14th, 2022

The site selection process involves examining potential options for land development by accessing their relative advantages and disadvantages. Site selection is a critical step in the success of a development project, the long-term investment, and the property owner’s operating costs.

While many areas in Europe will practically have the same total daylight, there are different variations of peak sun hours. In solar development, peak sun hours are defined as an hour of sunlight that offers 1,000 watts of photovoltaic power per square meter. Peak sun hours are not the hours between sunrise and sunset. They refer directly to the solar insolation a particular area would receive when the sun’s intensity is highest for a specific number of hours. The more peak sunlight hours, the more energy production from solar panels. Depending on the project requirements, the amount of peak sun hours a site can offer should be considered.

As a general rule, the flatter a site is, the better it is for solar development. However, it can be beneficial for sites to have a slight slope to the south or east to increase the system’s exposure to the sun. Developers have constructed projects on sites with a gentle grade and even rolling hills. In addition, a site selection team can consider doing earthwork and light tree and shrub removal to help prepare a site, but this can add a high cost to the project and may kill its viability.

Whether developers build a project on five hectares or fifty, they must locate their project near a utility’s infrastructure. Developers may prefer to be close to a substation. While a solar project can be remotely far from a substation, there must be ample three-phase distribution line capacity on or near the site. Once a project is constructed, it can tap into the distribution line to transfer the energy generated by the solar project. A site selection team will have to pay for installing lengthy distribution extensions to reach the site if there are no transmission lines near, which can also add high costs to a project and prevent a site from being a possible fit.

While solar projects are environmentally sound in theory, they can negatively impact the environment and protected species if poorly planned. Evaluating the following environmental factors during solar site selection is critical in determining a site’s suitability:

  • Impacts to the soil, water, and air resources
  • Impacts to vegetation, wildlife, wildlife habitat, and sensitive species
  • Potential effects from hazardous materials

Understanding the buildable area and any potential environmental hazards allows a site selection team to determine if their project will work on a site or not. The mitigation for these impacts can be detrimental to a company’s operating costs and startup schedule.

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