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Question

How far can energy be sourced from the actual Solar Farm/Plant?

How far can energy be SOURCED from the actual location Solar Farm/Plant?  And how is this done if so.  I find that a lot of Megawatt and Gigawatt Solar Plants are in towns with very little population so how 

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Pamela, there are several reasons large solar (and wind) farms are in remote locations.

The most obvious is that land is cheap, and both require a lot of land - more than any other other source of electricity generation. Also they require relatively dry, flat locations - areas without trees, vegetation or terrain to get in the way. Areas that are best for solar/wind farms are typically not those that are best, or most desirable, for humans.

Energy from any source can be transmitted via wire to where it needs to go. However, the farther it has to go the more is lost in transmission. Building transmission is expensive - and with the meager, intermittent energy solar and wind farms supply, they're falling out of favor as an alternative to nuclear plants for sources of clean energy.

Pamela - the utility segment has a long history of remote generation - people did/do not want to see the big facilities whether they be coal plants, wind turbines or nuclear plants.  Electricity at the proper voltage will travel 1000's of miles.  In the Western US there is a million volt DC transmission line from the Pacific Northwest to Southern CA.  Solar PV can do the same, in my opinion the difference is that we have choice, with 3 X 4 ft panels we can install these locally.  Yes the installed cost is higher, but we do not have the transmission losses and cost of the transmission equipment.  With the massive distribution centers / big box stores so common in all communities now - these locations should be preferentially used and matched up with short term energy storage.  At this point many of our communities will gain resiliency in addition to renewable generation.  Also this can bring different funding sources to our industry and more competition.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Feb 23, 2021

Gary, unfortunately with solar panels consumers don't have the choice of whether to make the sun shine at night, or not. Many consumers find electricity useful even after the sun goes down - even the few who could possibly see a carbon-free nuclear power plant from their homes.

As long as the solar plant is connected to a grid, that power can be "wheeled" to any end-user on that grid. Wheeling is the business end of the grid. It's an accounting exercise. You can't somehow "paint" all the green power green, but you can account for it in the Independent System Operator's (ISO's) ledgers. In the case of the US, the lower 47 (Texas being the notable exception) and some Canadian provinces are interconnected so, theoretically, power from a solar plant in Dagget, CA could be wheeled to Bangor, ME if you wanted to. As noted in the other responses, power plants are kind of known for being out in the boonies, away from population centers.   

It basically depends on the "wire fees" to "wheel" the power produced at a location to its "final destination". If the chosen solar farm site gets great solar radiation it compensates pretty well for the wire fees.  

Transmission is one of the factors.  Developers shopping for solar farm locations look for:  government incentives, low-cost land, proximity to grid, and minimum regulatory requirements. The government incentives are the major driving factor. In my area of southeastern CA, SDG&E planned and developed a new 117-mile 500 kV transmission line crossing a mountain range from an agricultural valley to San Diego, at a cost of $1.9 Billion. In this case the transmission line was the key that unlocked massive solar farm development, currently at 15,000 acres, and still growing steadily. Truly a case of a regional transformation.

In a clarification to Brian's comment on wheeling solar, in ERCOT (most of Texas) point to point transmission to targeted load is no longer an option under Nodal rate design, all generators settle with ERCOT at the point of interconnection. Potential customers of that solar must get comfortable with that pricing dynamic and either hedge difference between solar project and load or negotiate a fixed price with owner of project that meets commercial goals. 

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