How Does a Solar Farm Work? Pros and Cons Solar Farmers (Acreage PV Power)

Georgette Kilgore headshot, wearing 8 Billion Trees shirt with forest in the background.Written by Georgette Kilgore

Solar Panels | March 29, 2024

Woman dressed as a farmed looks over fields of solar panels on her solar farm and knows how does a solar farm work, how many acres per pv power, as well as the pros and cons of solar farms.

If you are interested in solar energy, you’ve probably come across the term solar farm, but many people wonder, how does a solar farm work and are they really environmentally friendly?

Solar energy is a free and renewable source of energy that is very effective when harnessed on a small scale.7 Therefore, scientists and technicians alike had the same idea, can we harness solar energy on a large scale?

This is how the solar farm was born.

However, although solar farms have been around for a while now, it has not been smooth sailing. These solar farms come with their pros and cons.

The following guide explains how solar farms work as well as their advantages and disadvantages so that you have all the information before you consider investing in one.

What Is a Solar Farm?

A solar farm is a collection of solar arrays on an otherwise empty piece of land that produces power derived from the sun’s energy.8

Many homeowners place solar panels on the roofs of their houses with the intention of producing enough solar power to cater to their individual energy needs.

This prevents any disruption to ecological elements since the structure already exists.

Aerial shot of a solar farm in the middle of agricultural plots of land.

(Image: UC Davis College of Engineering13)

However, solar farms are built to provide enough electricity to power many businesses and households and they are planed on land.

Solar farms supply power to electrical grids similar to fossil-fuel energy plants. The main difference between the two is that solar farms do not produce pollution during operation and they are renewable energy sources.

However, solar panels do produce high levels of emissions during their resource mining, manufacturing and disposal phases.

What Are the Dangers of a Solar Farm?

As a part of the solution to clean energy, solar panels play a key role in reducing emissions, but it is not perfect. The materials sourcing, manufacturing and disposal of the panels are all extremely carbon intensive activities.

Commercial photovoltaic (PV) solar farms often have hundreds to thousands of PV panels to convert solar energy into electricity.

Moreover, the land impact of large scale farms is only beginning to be understood, but the serious waterway pollution, potential noise pollution from the equipment (not the panels themselves), and fire risk, where “the PV system itself was considered the ‘cause or probable cause,’ that have been reported make the claim that 1.2 to .5 miles is the safe distance to have them located from residences.

This distance is based on a recent permit application’s final environmental impact report which showed residences approximately 3000 feet from the farm.

There are also studies that show large scale adoption of solar farms in desert locations would actually increase the planet’s temperatures.

Solar panel use in residential situations (homes and office buildings) where no land is impacted (since the building already exists) is one of the absolute best ways to help strengthen the current power grid of the country (and reduce fossil fuel use around the world), and we promote that application as well as ways to offset the unavoidable emissions that are generated in the life cycle of the panel.

How Do Solar Farms Work?

Solar farms use unoccupied land, which sometimes may be viewed as farmland. How do solar farms work? Solar panels are placed on this land and convert solar energy into electric power which is then transmitted into an electric grid.

Depending on the type of solar farm, the local electricity company pays the farmer for the energy generated through their solar farm.

Solar farms have similar primary standards to solar panel operations that are installed on the rooftops of homeowners. The only difference is that solar farms have a much wider scope and use a wide plot of land to generate and sell power to local utility companies for a profit.

The ecological costs to solar farms is only beginning to be understood.

Field Solar Panels

The market today has two dominant fields of solar panels energy technologies which are:

1. Photovoltaic technology (PV): These are the classic solar panels that probably everyone is familiar with. These devices consist of individual cells that yield 1 or 2 watts of power.1

These cells are connected in long chains which then create the solar panel. The cells are covered with glass which provides a protective layer and helps the cell weather adverse conditions living in the open air.

Most PV solar panels have 30-year life spans.

2. Concentrating Solar-thermal Power technology (CSP):9 This technology is a little different.

It employs the use of mirrors that reflect sunlight and concentrate the light onto receivers which convert the light to heat.

A Concentrated Solar Power using parabolic through to collect heat through sunlight.

(Image: Z2214)

Most of the time, when people mention solar farms, they usually refer to PV farms which are very popular in the market today. Experts design solar panel farms so that the panels face the direction which receives the most sunlight.

The farms are placed in areas with a lot of sun taking into consideration:

  • Latitude
  • Geography (flatness of the area)
  • Weather patterns

For example, in the US most solar farms are concentrated in the south from Florida to California. After the solar farms collect sun energy, they integrate it into the system so that it can be used on the grid by businesses and homes.

Batteries form an important part of the process because they store energy collected by solar farms.

Moreover, the batteries required for storing the energy also have a carbon footprint.

Types of Solar Farms

There are two types of solar farms: Community Solar Farms and Utility-Scale Solar Farms. The major difference between these two solar farms is that they have two different customer bases.

Public utilities are the main beneficiaries of utility-scale solar farms while community solar farms target end-consumers such as renters and homeowners.

Bellow is a comparison table of community solar farms vs utility-scale solar farms.

Community Solar Farms Utility Scale Solar Farms
Electricity is sold directly to customers Electricity is sold directly to utilities
Small size operation Large operation with the target of increasing energy production
Allows customers to buy farm shares and energy produced by the farm The energy produced is either owned by a utility or bought wholesale by utility buyers

1. Utility-Scale Solar Farms

These farms, also known as solar power plants, are large solar farms owned by utility companies. They consist of a collection of numerous solar panels that send electricity to the grid.

Depending on the geographic location of the installation, the farms’ power generation is either bought wholesale by utility buyers or through a power purchase agreement (PPA).

Regardless of which method is used, the utility company is the original customer. Then this utility company distributes the generated electricity to industrial, residential, and commercial customers connected to the grid.

2. Community Solar Farms

The community solar farm idea has become popular over the years because homeowners now know that they can get solar energy without necessarily placing the panels on their rooftops.10

Image of community solar farm in a greenish land.

(Image: Photo by William Byers, Department of Energy15)

Community solar farms, also called solar gardens or roofless solar farms, are farms that generate electricity that is shared across multiple households.

A community solar farm is a collection of panels that span across a few acres of land usually in an open field.

These solar gardens visually look like utility-scale solar farms, however, they are smaller in size. Customers are free to buy a share of the solar gardens or own a part of the overall array.2

Additionally, customers can lease energy from the array and in a sense reduce their monthly utility payment.

Community solar farm energy is typically lower than regular electricity from utility companies.

In most states in the US, the subscribers of community solar farms usually access virtual net metering. This is an incentive that allows the solar energy generated by solar farms to be sent back as an electricity bill credit to the users.

How Does a Solar Farm Work? How To Start a Solar Farm (Acreage Calculator)

A solar farm needs more research and preparation than individual home solar projects.

If you want to learn how to start a solar farm, here are some of the recommended best practices:

  1. Establish the market: You must have an idea of who will benefit from the solar farm project. It could be an education or industrial campus, urban neighborhood, or rural community.
    Additionally, you will need to find an electric company (that buys solar power) to work with.
  2. Create a plan: A solar farm business needs a plan just like any other business type. Here you will review the target customer base and the company’s management.
    The business plan should start from initial construction to long-term maintenance and operation of the solar farm.
  3. Create a brand and legal business: You will have to register the business as a partnership, corporation, or limited liability company.
  4. Find a suitable location: The piece of land for installing solar panels should have certain features. It should be away from trees and tall buildings, on a flat piece of land, and, exposed to the sun.
  5. Apply for permits: Solar farms need certain permits and licenses to operate legally. For example, you will have to get a license to connect the solar farm to the power grid, contract labor necessary for the project, and convert land permits for the solar farm. And many areas will also require an environmental impact study.
  6. Buy liability and other insurance: Buying proper insurance policies protects you from running into financial troubles due to unforeseeable circumstances. Liability coverage protects you when someone is hurt on your property.
    You can also opt for coverage for loss and damage of solar equipment.
  7. Hire professional solar installers: Remember to only go to an experienced solar company as this will ensure proper and professional installation of your solar panels. You can choose to purchase and seek installation labor from one company or purchase the equipment outright and have another company install it.
  8. Create a maintenance schedule: Solar panels should be built to withstand adverse weather conditions. As such you need to create a maintenance schedule that will keep your equipment running optimally.

Building a Solar Farm

A lot of work goes into building a solar farm, however, it’s a fairly straightforward process.

More often than not, solar farms are a group project with the contributors being direct beneficiaries of the project.

Bird's eye view of a large solar farm in Austin,Texas situated close to agricultural land.

(Image: The tdog16)

Utility-scale solar farms are often built by large utility companies with the help of the government, while community solar farms are built by a group of individuals interested in reducing their utility bills and profiting from these farms.

Building a solar farm has the following steps:

Step 1: Funding

The first step is to establish funding because solar farm installation and grid connection are not cheap. Solar panel installation usually costs one million dollars per megawatt.3

This amount doesn’t even include the expenses of maintaining the solar panels and renting the land.

When assessing an investment, solar panel farmers usually conduct complex cost analyses and look into the tax implication of this large-scale undertaking.

If the stakeholders find that the project is valuable, they approach financiers to get the significant funding necessary to build the solar farm.

Step 2: Identifying a Site

Finding an appropriate location for building a solar farm is a massive project in and of itself. There are a lot of factors to consider such as the quality of soil, exposure to sunlight, and proximity to grid infrastructure.

Developers will require 6 – 8 acres per megawatt to place the panels.

Once they find a suitable sight, developers negotiate with property owners to reach a reasonable rent and lease agreement.

Step 3: Construction

The construction process is also very taxing. It starts with getting proper licenses and permits such as:

  • Insurance policies
  • Contract labor license
  • Land conversion certificate
  • Operating Agreement

The pre-construction phase may take up to five years because these licenses and permits are hard to come by. However, once they are obtained the installation phase is fairly simple taking six to twelve months.

Step 4: Grid Connection

Once construction is complete, it’s time to bring the solar farm ‘online’ by connecting it to the local power grid. To secure this connection, developers must work with utilities to:

  • Receive confirmation that the project can be supported by the physical grid
  • Ensure that the solar farm’s energy is properly accounted for.

How Does a Solar Farm Work: How Is Solar Energy Produced?

The Photovoltaic Effect was discovered in 1839 by a French physicist called Edmond Becquerel and the PV technology was established in 1954 by Daryl Chaplin who developed PV cells.

How is solar energy produced? In simple terms, solar power is derived from converting sun energy into power which is either electricity or heat.

Currently, people use solar panels that range in size to produce this solar power.

The solar panels built from either silicon or another semiconductor material are placed in a frame made of metal panels and then put in a glass casing.11

This material is then placed in sunlight photons (small energy packets) which produce an electric charge by releasing electrons.

The PV charge generates electric current, specifically, the direct current that the wiring in the solar panels captures. An inverted then converted direct current to alternating current which is the electrical current used in a person’s house.

How does a solar farm work? The panels in the solar farm create electricity directly from sunlight which is then converted by an inverter into usable energy.

The energy is then supplied to the grid or stored in a battery. Mining the materials for these elements produces emissions.

What Are the 5 Solar Farm Land Requirements?

There are five key factors that determine whether or not you can use a piece of land for a solar project.

However, it’s important to note that each piece of land is very unique and you will have to speak directly to an expert to determine if a certain piece of land is viable.

Low-angle shot of photovoltaic power station in Spain showing large solar panel systems arrange in a grid with the sky in the background.

(Image: Roquex17)

These five key areas include:

1. Parcel size: If the land is not large enough to host a solar farm then the project should not continue. In general, most solar farm developers need a minimum of 10 acres of usable land or 200 acres if they are interested in a utility-scale project.

One kilowatt (kW) of solar panels needs a surface area of 100 square feet. You should note that local governments do not usually allow full coverage of the whole parcel so in most cases only 60% of the land will be used for the PV project.

So for ten acres, the solar farm will only take 6 acres after zoning and setback restrictions.

2. Land condition: The terrain quality plays a significant role in determining the success and viability of the project. The most ideal land for a solar farm is flat clear land with minimal incline (5 degrees or less) and little to no wetlands.4

The land should also receive a lot of sunlight annually and should be able to host all necessary solar equipment.

Smaller obstructions such as shrubs, bushes, and other vegetation can be eliminated but major obstructions prevent construction. This is because they will cause shading which is not suitable for solar farms.

3. Infrastructure proximity: Besides size and quality of land, location also plays a major role in solar farm development viability. If the location is far away from the grid, the cost of interconnection will also be high.

The more cost and distance increase, the more the land becomes less viable.

Infrastructure such as road access is also important to keep transport costs low and reduce the overall project cost. Land that is near a big town or city is more desirable because it offers a larger market for community solar farms.

4. Local policy: If the local laws do not allow solar farm construction, then the project cannot proceed. Sometimes, purchasing the permits for constructing a solar farm can take years, making developers give up on the project altogether.

5. Flooding potential: Before a solar farm project starts, developers must carry out a flood risk assessment to ensure that the land is under no risk of future flooding. If the flooding risk is high then there is no use moving ahead with the project.

Some developers don’t mind using land located on a floodplain. The solar farm project may require a little extra planning to ensure that equipment is elevated enough and strong enough to withstand the flood.

How Much Do Solar Farms Cost?

A solar power plant costs about $0.9 and $1.02 per watt. Therefore, a 1 MW (megawatt) solar farm costs between $90,000 and $102,000.5

The cost to clear ½ acre of land will range between $10,000 to $15,000 depending on what’s on the land. Items such as trees and boulders take time, effort, and money to remove.

Solar Farm Income per Acre

The solar farm income per acre calculator shows that you can earn anything between $21,000 to $ 43,000 per acre each year.

The acreage calculator also indicates solar farm lease rates per acre range from $250 – $2000 each year.

Solar developers often look for more than 5 acres of land when investing in solar farms. The hot point is usually 10 acres, therefore you can get $20,000 annually for just leasing your land, though this depends on a lot of factors.

Pros and Cons of Solar Energy

Solar energy can be used in a lot of ways from farming, to household use, to even charging a Tesla. However, there are pros and cons of solar energy that you should know before moving forward.

The advantages of solar energy far outweigh the disadvantages when built responsibly.12 Here are some of the solar farms pros and cons:

Advantages of Solar Energy and Solar Panel Farm

  1. Environmentally friendly: Solar farms collect energy from the sun and feed it to regional power grids from public utilities. They do not have any harmful atmospheric discharge and do not need the burning of fossil fuels.6
    Solar panels do not contaminate water and land and are a great source of renewable energy.
  2. Low-maintenance: Solar farms require very little maintenance and support. The units can last 30 years and only need semi-yearly cleaning.
  3. They are quiet: Solar farms do not cause noise pollution. Most other energy sources might require drills or pumps which make a lot of noise. Some noise may be generated by power transfer equipment.
  4. Sustainable: Solar energy is considered renewable.

Disadvantages of Solar Energy and Solar Farms

  1. High installation costs: Solar farms cost more than $1,000,000 to construct because the panels and batteries are very expensive. How much do solar panels cost in your state will depend on the availability of raw materials.
  2. Irregular availability: Some regions in the world only get maximum sunlight in certain seasons making solar energy an unsuitable solution. Additionally, rainy and cloudy days will reduce the amount of energy obtained from the solar panels.
  3. Require rare materials: The production of solar cells requires rare materials such as copper indium gallium selenide which are hard to come by, which generates a lot of pollution.
  4. Carbon emissions are also generated during the manufacturing and disposal of solar panels.
Aerial view of solar farms built in different portions of a forest.

(Image: Photo by Lucas Faria, Department of Energy18)

A solar farm is a great energy source for commercial properties and large-area households, but understanding the drawbacks of development and operation makes this ‘clean’ energy source both a positive and negative option.

Frequently Asked Questions About Solar Farm

What Is a Safe Distance To Live From a Solar Farm?

According to various research and a 2023 Environmental Impact Report in California indicate that the distance is approximately .5 miles to 1.2 miles from a solar farm, however, long term research (over 20 years) has not been conducted on the impact to property values or environmental or personal health.

Is Soil Renewable?

Soil is a nonrenewable resource.

How Does a Solar Farm Work?

The solar electric panels in solar farms obtain energy from the sun and convert it into electricity.

How Much Is 1 Acre of Land Worth?

One acre of land for solar farms is approximately worth around $21,000 to $43,000.

What Is the Name of One of the NY State Solar Farms?

It is called the Long Island Solar Farm.

What Does a 1 Acre Solar Farm Cost?

A 1-acre solar farm can cost between $400,000 to $500,000.

What Are Some Solar Farms in Florida?

In Florida, There is the FPL Manatee Solar Energy Center in Manatee County and the FPL Citris Solar Energy Center in Desoto County.

Where Is the Largest Solar Farm in the World?

The largest solar farm in the world is Bhadla Solar Park in India.

What Is a Tier 1 Solar Panel?

A Tier 1 solar panel is a solar panel built by manufacturers that met the standards set by BNEF.

What Is Solar Radiation?

This refers to the electromagnetic radiation derived from the sun.


1Ines, G. (2022, October 16). What is a Solar Farm and How Does it Work? Greenly. Retrieved May 12, 2023, from <>

2Marsh, J. (2022, April 10). Solar Farms: What are They and How do They Work? energysage. Retrieved May 12, 2023, from <>

3Young, C., & Lepeska, D. (2023, May 8). How to Start a Solar Farm. Step by Step Business. Retrieved May 12, 2023, from <>

4Miller, A. (2022, October 31). How to Start a Solar Farm: The Ultimate Guide. Pes Solar. Retrieved May 12, 2023, from <>

5Transect Team. (2022, July 11). How to Start a Solar farm: Building a Commercial Solar Farm. Transect. Retrieved May 12, 2023, from <>

6Sampaio, P. G. V., & González, M. O. A. (2017). Photovoltaic solar energy: Conceptual framework. RI UFRN. Retrieved May 12, 2023, from <>

7U.S. Department of the Interior. (2023). SOLAR ENERGY. BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT. Retrieved May 12, 2023, from <>

8Massachusetts Institute of Technology. (2023). Summit Farms: Investing in off-site renewable energy. MIT | Office of Sustainability. Retrieved May 12, 2023, from <>

9U.S. Department of Energy. (2023). Concentrating Solar-Thermal Power Basics. Office of ENERGY EFFICIENCY & RENEWABLE ENERGY. Retrieved May 12, 2023, from <>

10U.S. Department of Energy. (2023). About EERE. Office of ENERGY EFFICIENCY & RENEWABLE ENERGY. Retrieved May 12, 2023, from <>

11Qualitative Reasoning Group Northwestern University. (2023). What are possible power sources for satellites? QRG | Qualitative Reasoning Group. Retrieved May 12, 2023, from <>

12U.S. Department of Energy. (2023). Benefits of Residential Solar Electricity. Energy Saver. Retrieved May 12, 2023, from <>

13UC Davis Solar Farm Photo by UC Davis College of Engineering / Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0). Resized and Changed Format. From Flickr <>

14Parabolic trough Photo by Z22 / Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0). Resized and Changed Format. From Wikimedia Commons <>

15Solar farm Photo by William Byers, U.S Department of Energy / United States government work. Resized and Changed Format. From Flickr <>

16Webberville Solar Farm Photo by The tdog / CC0 1.0 Universal (CC0 1.0) Public Domain Dedication. Resized and Changed Format. From Wikimedia Commons <>

17HuertoSolar Photo by Roquex / CC0 1.0 Universal (CC0 1.0) Public Domain Dedication. Resized and Changed Format. From Wikimedia Commons <>

18DC solar farm Photo by Lucas Faria, U.S Department of Energy / United States government work. Resized and Changed Format. From Flickr <>