As the first essential step in creating a successful renewable energy project, a solar feasibility study examines if the array is financially and technologically viable. The solar power feasibility analysis determines if the renewable energy project gets the green light by identifying roadblocks in the beginning of the planning phase.
There are many essential factors to consider, such as location, proximity to utilities, net metering laws, site layout, energy storage potential, and cost, to name a few. It is vital to have a basic understanding of your project’s financing, interconnection challenges, solar equipment compatibility, local regulations, permitting requirements, and the solar radiation. These reports are usually intended for building, business, or landowners and are often used with grant applications. It is one of the first steps in the project development process.
What Is a Solar Feasibility Study?
A solar panel feasibility study assesses the viability and potential benefits of implementing a solar energy system in a specific location. It analyzes factors such as sunlight exposure, energy consumption patterns, available space for solar panels, and regulatory considerations.
Financial aspects, including upfront costs, potential energy bill savings, and return on investment, are evaluated. A solar feasibility study guides decision-makers by providing a comprehensive understanding of whether a solar panel installation aligns with the site's characteristics and economic goals, helping determine the feasibility and advisability of pursuing solar energy adoption.
Why Are Feasibility Studies Important For Solar Energy Projects?
The goal is to limit project risk and address issues early on in the development process. When identified, many critical design constraints can be overcome effectively with planning. Without a thorough solar panel feasibility study, installations are more likely to go over budget or get stalled. Unfortunately, such issues can reflect poorly on a solar energy contractor or EPC.
Conversely, successful projects are an excellent way to gain positive publicity and reviews. These installations can help boost your reputation as a photovoltaic contractor and encourage word-of-mouth referrals.
What Goes Into A Solar Feasibility Study?
It entails conducting a site inspection (when necessary), selecting the preliminary solar components, and making basic electricity production estimates. For basic residential solar energy systems, this process can be relatively simple.
For larger residential or more complex solar panel installations, a solar feasibility analysis can be more involved and time-consuming, especially when there are numerous solar design constraints and financing options. We touch on the most common things to include in a feasibility study below.
Solar Energy Project Background
It is crucial to understand the context of the project, such as the owner’s goals and desired outcomes. These factors drive the preliminary design process and help inform decisions, like whether or not to add a solar battery bank to an installation.
Solar Site Selection
The potential site has numerous implications on the system, solar project viability, system performance, maintenance costs, and installation costs. For ground-mounted solar systems, the topography will indicate if site work needs to be done and could impact the tilt angle of the PV panels.
The site selection dictates if the land needs to be cleared, adding to the cost and environmental impact. Likewise, the location indicates what regulations impact the permitting fees and process, building codes, and utility interconnection.
Recommended Solar Energy Equipment
Solar power feasibility studies include recommendations on PV panels, racking systems, solar inverters, and battery storage equipment (when applicable). Often, site conditions influence the options for a given solar power project.
For example, if a site has low roof load limits, you might install a solar racking system that evenly distributes the weight and wind load of the system. Solar power generation on white roofs might be improved by using bifacial solar panels. Inverter selection may vary depending on whether the system has solar batteries.
Environmental And Regulatory Considerations
Solar regulations vary by building codes and the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ). Solar farms must comply with federal and state environmental policies, and relevant federal statutes may include the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act.
If a solar farm is installed on a capped landfill, the Environmental Protection Agency will be involved. For solar systems on historical buildings, there may be additional restrictions to maintain the historical feel of the property, and the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) may be involved. Solar projects in neighborhoods with a homeowners' association (HOA) may require HOA approval for solar projects.
There are also ways to mitigate the environmental impact of the project during its operation. For example, planting drought-tolerant native wildflowers may reduce the irrigation requirements of the site and establish pollinator habitat. Some solar developers are even using sheep grazing instead of gas-powered mowers, reducing carbon emissions and operating expenses.
Economic Analysis of Solar Projects
Understanding the financial implications of a solar installation is crucial for calculating the return on investment and reducing financial risk. Often, investors or owners need this information to determine if a project is financially viable. The economic analysis examines the project costs and revenue potential through renewable energy generation.
It is vital to consider local and federal financial incentives, such as the investment tax credit, bonus depreciation, and MACRS depreciation. In some cases, local incentives or grants might be available, such as state clean energy rebates or the REAP grant (for agricultural producers or small businesses in rural areas). Some businesses pay demand charges for their energy use and it is crucial to understand how installing a solar PV system would impact the cost of energy. If a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) is involved, it is critical to understand how its terms impact the economics of the project.
Community Impact of Solar Installations
Solar photovoltaic installations do not happen in a vacuum. A commercial solar project may boost a company’s reputation by taking actions to mitigate climate change. Large-scale solar farms can have a bigger impact, both financially and environmentally. Such projects can increase tax revenue in a community and compensate landowners with lease payments. Many local governments and communities support reducing their reliance on fossil fuels and promoting energy efficiency.
Likewise, taking farmland out of production or destroying wildlife habitat may be concerning to some communities. There is also a concern in some communities about creating local jobs instead of bringing in out-of-state solar installers.
How is Land Suitability Evaluated in a Solar Farm Feasibility Study?
In evaluating land suitability for a solar farm, a comprehensive analysis is conducted to assess topographical features, shading patterns, and soil conditions. The goal is to ensure that the chosen site offers optimal exposure to sunlight throughout the day, minimizing shading and maximizing energy production. Factors such as the slope of the land and its orientation are crucial considerations in determining the efficiency of solar panel installations, providing key insights into the overall feasibility of the solar farm project.
Analyzing the feasibility of a solar farm involves assessing various factors, including:
Evaluate the site's solar irradiance and duration of sunlight to ensure sufficient energy production.
Assess topography, soil conditions, and shading patterns to determine the feasibility of a solar panel installation.
Examine local regulations and zoning requirements to ensure compliance with permitting and environmental standards.
Energy Consumption Patterns:
Analyze historical energy usage data to tailor the solar farm's capacity to meet demand effectively.
Consider upfront costs, potential revenue, and financial incentives to assess the project's economic feasibility, which is often critical for obtaining project financing.
Evaluate the proximity to existing grid connections, ensuring ease of integration with the power infrastructure. When grid integration is difficult, the project costs increase, decreasing solar farm feasibility.
Consider climate factors like temperature and precipitation to project energy generation and system performance accurately.
Solar Technology Selection:
Choose appropriate solar technologies, such as photovoltaic or concentrated solar power, based on site-specific conditions, is commonly included in solar feasibility studies.
Assess potential ecological impacts and implement measures for sustainable and environmentally responsible solar farm development.
Community and Stakeholder Engagement:
Involve local communities and stakeholders to address concerns, garner support, and ensure positive social impact.
Grid Connection Capacity:
Check the capacity of the local grid to accommodate the energy output from the solar farm without overloading the system with utility interconnection.
Building codes, electrical codes, and zoning obstacles can make it difficult to move forward with certain projects. The GreenLancer team is skilled in overcoming permitting and solar engineering challenges.
When Are Solar Feasibility Studies Not Necessary?
The vast majority of installations benefit from a solar feasibility analysis to ensure that the proposed project realizes the desired goals. The depth of the study varies by the project size, potential issues, and stakeholder demands. Even for an off-grid solar project, it’s helpful to determine if the proposed clean energy system will meet the renewable energy needs of the occupants, even if not performing a full analysis.
Kickstart Your Next Project With a Solar Energy Feasibility Study
A thorough and accurate solar feasibility study lays the foundation for a successful PV project. They are an excellent way for reputable companies to differentiate themselves by ensuring that all key stakeholders are well-informed and that critical design constraints have been identified.
The GreenLancer marketplace has a network of specialists skilled in conducting feasibility studies throughout the United States. Our network of vetted solar designers and licensed engineers can create customer-ready feasibility studies with speed and agility. Learn more by connecting with a rep today!