The Long Island Solar Farm (LISF) became operational in November 2011 on federal land at Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island, New York. The plant is the largest utility-scale solar power plant in the Eastern United States and currently produces enough electricity to power more than 4,500 homes. A joint project of a conglomerate of private and public entities, the project represents the best aspects of American innovation responding to the most serious of American needs.
A solar farm is an array of solar panels set out in sufficient quantity to generate utility-scale volumes of electricity. International innovations on the principle have developed several solar farm designs with features that dramatically increase the amount of solar radiance, captured. The solar heat collected from these immense arrays boils water, and the resulting steam runs conventional turbines. With no fossil fuels necessary, there are no carbon emissions. Other innovations that are powering the growth in solar energy production include exponentially increasing the efficiency of each solar cell and developing solar energy storage battery capacity to access the electricity after sunset.
Solar farming is a global affair
As the world wrestles with the challenges posed by the burning of fossil fuels, more countries are looking for viable alternatives for electricity generation. Whereas nuclear energy used to be considered an option to fossil fuel-generated electricity, the 2011 Fukushima disaster has acted as a warning, and many countries have begun phasing out their nuclear power plants. In its place, solar generated power has taken a huge leap forward around the world as equipment and technology reduce costs and improve efficiencies.
- China booms: By mid-2015, China had installed more than 33 gigawatts (GW) of solar capacity and plannes to add an additional 17 GW by the end of the year. That country is looking at solar PV power to fill in energy gaps they will see produced when existing nuclear and hydropower plants are closed. A three-member industry consortium — the China Photovoltaic Industry Association, the Chinese Renewable Energy Industries Association and the China Renewable Energy Society — is asking the government to install as much as 200 GW of capacity by the end of 2020 in order to meet the country’s rising energy consumption and reduce its carbon emissions.
- Germany rules: The world leader in utility-scale solar capacity, Germany produced more than 38 GW in 2014, which accounted for 21percent of the total global PV production that year. Germany has often met more than 50 percent of its national daily energy needs from solar power.
- Japan chips and floats away from nuclear: The Fukushima challenge turned the country toward solar power, even though it doesn’t have much available land mass for a traditional “farm” installation.
Instead, the Japanese solar industry began solar farming by covering miles of unused golf courses with solar panels, and even launched several “solar islands” that consist of water resistant cells that float offshore.
Solar farming in the U.S. continues to grow
The end of 2014 found the country with 18.3 GW of installed solar capacity, much of it in the form of residential and small commercial installations. Government tax credits and rebates have been strong incentives for residential solar installations. Solar farms although numerous are growing as the federal government maintains its push to add additional renewable energy sources to the country’s utility fuel supply. In fact, a 2015 report from MIT Energy Initiative state that solar energy is “very likely an essential component of a workable strategy to mitigate climate change,” which makes the Long Island Solar Farm an enticing subject for the study of viable future solar farms.
LISF grows from grass roots
A leading reason for the success of LISF is its affiliation with the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA). LIPA began its foray into solar capacity in 2000 when it launched a series of incentives for residential and business-scale solar projects. It was also the first New York utility to introduce feed-in tariffs, which standardized integration of smaller solar PV units with the grid. So, it wasn’t surprising that LIPA was willing to engage in further solar energy development projects like the LISF.
Around the country other solar farms have been developed, most notably in the southwest and west where solar radiance is highest of all the states. In the U.S., the adoption of solar farm technology for public utility electricity consumption is still relatively new, but as long as the LISF continues to energize Long Island homes and businesses, it remains a model for the successful use of utility-scale technology to provide clean energy and reduce polluting pollutant emissions.
RGS Energy has almost 40 years of experience in installing solar energy systems throughout the country, in a wide variety of settings. To find out how solar energy could power your home, visit www.rgsenergy.com.