April 12, 2024

Innovative Solutions to Address Space Constraints in Solar Farms

Solar power is projected to play a critical role in the future of global electricity markets, with dominance expected in the next few decades. According to the International Energy Agency, solar energy already accounts for three-quarters of renewable energy capacity worldwide. This year, BloombergNEF anticipates a 25% increase in solar builds, adding over 500 gigawatts of capacity.

The expanding solar energy sector poses a challenge in terms of space requirements. To power just one megawatt of capacity, a minimum of five acres is needed. For instance, a 200-megawatt project, with roughly 3,000 panels, occupies an area equivalent to 550 American football fields. This spatial requirement is a driving factor behind numerous solar projects being located in remote desert regions in China, which is the world’s largest solar market. Additionally, the International Energy Agency foresees a faster expansion of rooftop and residential solar installations compared to solar farms this year.

Bonnie Heiple, commissioner at the Massachusetts Department of Energy, highlights the importance of having solar installations in communities, as it helps individuals gain a better understanding of the source of their power, potentially motivating them to make sustainable lifestyle changes.

As the momentum of solar energy grows, innovators are exploring unconventional locations for solar panels. These include solar arrays on big-box stores, yachts, and floating solar farms. There are also panels designed for balcony and smartphone use. To mitigate the need for clearing vast land spaces, engineers are devising ways to integrate solar technology into existing infrastructure, from landfills to art installations. Here are five unexpected places where solar farms or strategically placed panels can be found.

Parking lots and garages, which demand considerable space, can accommodate solar canopies that offer shade, safety, and efficient charging for electric vehicles (EVs). Ben Jones, vice president of design and engineering at DSD Renewables, cites the example of installing solar canopies at Rutgers University in New Jersey. DSD has implemented almost 200 megawatts of canopy projects across the US, including a 6.5-megawatt canopy project at Caesars Entertainment Casinos in Atlantic City, New Jersey, providing energy for the casino and shade for the parking garage.

Land Art Generator, spearheaded by Elizabeth Monoian and Robert Ferry, organizes competitions for solar art designers, connecting them with communities that provide public art grants. One notable project involved working with JT Brackenridge Elementary School in San Antonio to create a solar-panel mural showcasing the community’s history. Another upcoming installation is the Arch of Time in a Houston park, designed by artist and architect Riccardo Mariano, which integrates black solar panels to generate power for nearby homes while functioning as a monumental clock.

Ferry emphasizes that solar energy has become the most cost-effective means of generating power, allowing room for innovation in infrastructure design. The industry has embraced a period of exploration to develop new approaches to solar farm construction amidst space constraints and increasing energy demands.

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1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
2. We have leveraged AI tools to mine information and compile it