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A Concise Analysis of Solar Farms; The Gains, The Risks and The Beauty of It All

Updated: Dec 9, 2021

Everyone speaks of solar energy and its scalability, but how does one begin to harvest enough power to supply multiple households, let alone a whole city? In 2019, Malaysia registered an installed capacity of solar energy of 882MW and is forecasted to reach 4GW by 2030. An accumulation of such capacity is largely represented by solar farms – large-scale solar power plants, a growing global amenity as an alternative source of electricity generation. The possibilities of expanding solar farms are vast and far-reaching, with many studies exploring its feasibility to host a large portion of residential and commercial consumption.

To understand a solar farm’s capabilities and limitations, one needs to consider its impact on involved stakeholders and the surrounding environment. As part of our advocacy for promoting greener energy, Progressture Solar seeks to inform the general public on the intricacies of environmental sustainability and how a carbon-neutral pathway is possible through a partnership with experienced players. Here are some key points of solar farms, and ultimately how we strive to aid all manner of communities to be aware of its benefits and the balancing act of creating a healthy ecosystem.

Introduction: A Basic Understanding of Solar Farms

The term ‘solar panel farm’ is very much interchangeably used with ‘solar parks’ and /or ‘solar power plants, and they all signify an area of large-scale solar power production. A broad definition of a solar (panel) farm lies in its design and ability to harness solar energy which produces electricity for multiple residential, commercial, or industrial developments, bringing us to the segregation of solar farm categories. Solar farms are majorly utilized in two ways based on their consumers; a utility-scale solar farm or solar power plant produces enough power to be sold to wholesale power providers, or directly owned by a utility company.

As solar power continues to grow as a feasible renewable energy resource, large economies such as China and India have invested heavily in large solar farm developments to meet clean energy targets. The alternative, smaller format produces power directly shared by multiple households or buildings, a concept popular in North American territories, the United Kingdom, Australia, and gaining traction in developing countries.

Malaysia itself is trying to address its increasing energy demand while shifting away from fossil fuel consumption. By 2025, the government aims to reach 31% renewable energy generation – this requires a significant leap in solar power production and capacity. With much potential for its development and advancements, solar farms have been and are currently being built across the country, propelled by government incentives on tariffs and energy trading, as well as hefty investments by those looking for more sustainable sources of energy in the midst of climate change concerns.

While the concept sounds sunny, there are multiple lenses that should be peered into when one decides to invest in this alternative energy source. As demand for solar panel farms continues to expand, it is wise to consider the varying benefits and costs it brings to existing stakeholders, and how they co-exist in the complicated web of defined green, sustainable practices.

The Gains: Clean Energy Supply

The overreaching argument for large-scale solar farms is that it ultimately increases the production and consumption of clean energy – the reduction in carbon emissions by far is the ultimate goal of its development. Solar technology is proven to generate little to no carbon emissions, with significantly lower emissions intensity levels than fossil fuel utility. With advanced technology, solar power can also be stored in batteries and used during hours of the day with little to no sunlight.

The stunning beauty of solar panel farms as compared to other renewable energy production sites is their natural track records of generating low air and noise pollution, as well as their low water usage. This itself is a three-way advantage for multiple stakeholders; from one perspective, it forms a neutral relationship with its surrounding natural environment, nearby residential population and wildlife, and the reduction in water consumption that allows for efficient usage in other important societal systems.

The Malaysian government has also provided financial incentives to encourage the building and installation of solar farms via various schemes. The Large Scale Solar (LSS) scheme is a prime example, regulated by the Energy Commission and offering solar farm owners the opportunity to sell generated electricity back to the national grid. Other schemes and programs that are broad incentives for renewable energy utilization include the Net Energy Metering (NEM) scheme, Self-Consumption (SELCO), the Supply Agreement of Renewable Energy (SARE), and the Green Income Tax Exemption (GITE) – all driven to benefit the economy, creating a ‘spillover effect on multiple sectors in their approach towards more sustainable and environmentally friendly business practices.

The Risks: Impact on Biodiversity from Extensive Land Use

While the lack of noise pollution and open grasslands or deserts promote a perceived advantage for wildlife habitat, there have been many arguments against solar farms’ vast, on-the-ground land coverage. In retrospect, large-utility scale solar panels take up extensive land area, which in itself can cause geographical changes and blasts of high temperatures, followed by changes in the immediate microhabitat, with reports of it even contributing to bird mortality. What solar farms tend to promote however, is a selective mode of flora and fauna conservation rather than an untouched ecosystem – one which requires scrutiny in ensuring ongoing improvements to current environmental protection efforts.

The Beauty of Solar Farms and Strategic Allocation

Solar farms are still very important facilities to consider positively when transitioning towards a cleaner energy source. The benefits are numerous and spread across multiple stakeholders, including the overall environment. In essence, building solar farms require strategic planning in order for sustainability efforts to matter. Careful consideration is needed when sourcing out locations to build solar farms on – building on endangered ecological landscapes can create major financial, environmental, and social costs.

There are of course, continuous technological advancements and multiple geographical locations to build solar farms on that maximize its benefits. Floating solar farms are popular alternatives for land-based developments, and can be built on bodies of water that are primarily manmade such as reservoirs and dams. Acting as an artificial shade and cooling system, floating solar farms also reduces evaporation and control algae growth which is detrimental in reservoirs. Rooftops, airports, even abandoned agricultural sites and land areas are also ideal locations for solar farms that will provide little environmental cost as compared to ecologically sensitive areas.

Figure 2 Tengeh Reservoir, Singapore, hosts one of the largest inland floating solar farms

The Solution: What We Can Do for You – Progressture Solar

Progressture Solar’s mission is to ensure we provide quality consultation and project development for large-scale solar farms, stretching the benefits of solar power to as many stakeholders while reducing environmental degradation. The small part we play in the complicated web of climate mitigation still holds a large responsibility on our shoulders to provide organizations with clarity, transparency, and the best possible solutions on the path towards sustainable green energy. As Malaysia is a country diverse in its geographical and ecological landscape, it is thus important to consider various angles when planning your placement of a large-scale solar farm.

All things considered, large-scale solar propels the growing shift towards viable, cleaner energy production; it demands holistic analysis in its carbon emissions reduction and financial sustainability while conserving the existing natural environment. This in itself is the end motivation, as we continue our journey to create a brighter, more sustainable future for everyone.

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