The Agrarian Side of Solar Farming
When people think of the energy business, many picture the boom and bust cycles that define the oil and gas industry and the wealth generated or lost by such volatility. While power markets can also be volatile on the trading floor, the day-to-day of a solar power plant is much more agrarian.
On tours of our Sealy solar farm, we often discuss the similarities between solar and agricultural farming and wanted to share some basics and background on our business.
It Starts with Land
As we’ve mentioned in previous posts, Sealy, TX is a great place for distributed solar projects for two big reasons: the price of land and the minimum load on the distribution circuits.
Like agricultural farming, solar needs a lot of land and sun. For every MW of solar panels, we like to have at least five acres of clear land that is easy to access and free from shade.
Sealy is at the western edge of the Houston Load Zone, is easy to access, and is located about 100 miles from the nearest coast. Most importantly, Sealy is rural enough for land to support solar farming at around $10,000 per acre, compared to much higher prices as you get closer to the city.
When interconnecting a solar farm to a local distribution network, the minimum load in the area must be large enough to avoid interference with the grid’s operation. This means the area must have sufficient activity with homes and businesses connected to the lines.
Sealy has a minimum loading of 6 MW on our circuit, allowing easy interconnection and power flow from our 1.5 MW solar farm.
Planting the Crop
Like plants, a solar array gathers sunlight and converts it to usable energy. To best do this, solar developers “plant” rows of solar panels and catch the sun from east to west throughout the day.
Our panels in Sealy are on trackers that follow the sun, producing about 25% more energy than if they were fixed and providing a longer, flatter production shape.
The 12 acre, 1.5 MW solar farm in Sealy generates power using over 15,000 CdTe thin film solar panels (102 Watts per panel) manufactured by First Solar. CdTe performs better than crystalline solar panels in hot and humid climates, producing 8% more power over the life of a comparable crystalline system.
The solar panel wires are combined into higher voltage strings that send direct current (DC) power to our SMA inverters. The inverters turn the DC to alternating current (AC), synchronizing the power to the grid to be used by homes and businesses.
Finally, the power passes through our transformer and recloser (which protects both the grid and our solar array from improper voltage) before running through a meter onto the grid.
Each year, the Local Sun solar farm in Sealy generates roughly 2,500,000 kWh, powering homes and businesses that choose cleaner energy produced locally. It’s also home to eight honey bee hives from All Things Bees Texas that make over 100 lbs of honey per year and pollinate a three mile radius.
From the Farm to You
Unlike most utility solar projects, we built our first solar farm on a merchant basis, meaning we did it without a power purchase agreement (PPA). Instead of the solar power going to a big bank or other utility in a PPA, it goes directly to consumers like you through our member electricity plans.
This approach provides Texans with the flexibility of a standard electricity plan that offers the long-term benefits of solar power and supports the local community.
It’s like buying fresh, local produce from a grocery store that has its own farm.