Smarter Solar Siting: Creativity, Empathy Are Part of a Winning Approach

A University of Rhode Island researcher came out with a study in late September that caught my eye. It found that utility scale solar power installations caused housing values near the arrays to decline. The closer the proximity, the larger the decline.

Site selection is a critical part of the solar solutions Solential provides to our customers; I continued reading…

Researcher Corey Lang, an associate professor of natural resource economics, acknowledged that Americans have a growing desire to transition from fossil fuels to sustainable energy. However, solar, as sustainable as it is, comes with a new set of challenges. Chief among them is land use, which can make siting solar systems a contentious issue. The reason? The easiest and cheapest place to install solar arrays are farmland and forests, areas prized by everyone who appreciates nature’s beauty.

Lang went on to say that the greater good of reducing carbon emissions via solar energy installations outweighs the cost to nearby property owners. But the real key to making more people happy?

Smarter solar siting.

Of course, taking a more thoughtful approach when deciding where to locate large solar systems makes perfect sense. But what is “smarter solar siting?” What exactly does it look like? In this blog, I’ll review some smart siting options. The key to any smart solar solution is a willingness to be creative and empathetic in one’s approach.  Let’s get started.

One: Increase utilization of rooftop installations.
Rooftops are second only to open land as a preferred site for solar installations. Flat roofs in particular are ideal locations as positioning the panels for optimum solar exposure is easier to do. If solar panels are installed on an existing structure, the roof itself may need to be retrofitted to support and secure the weight and stress of the panels under various weather conditions. From a visibility perspective, roof-mounted solar systems are less visually invasive and therefore more acceptable to a lot of people. Out of sight, out of mind!

Rooftop-mounted solar represents a huge opportunity. Consider this, Amazon has 180 million square feet worth of distribution centers across the United States and Canada and are adding more literally every day. Add in Walmart and Target distribution centers and that’s a total of 380 million square feet of buildings with flat roofs that could potentially accommodate solar arrays.

The opportunity has caught the attention of these big box, online retailers. All three have active solar strategies and live roof-mounted installs. Other warehouse owners are joining the rooftop solar movement. Entergy just completed the largest commercial rooftop solar project on a warehouse in New Orleans. Some 7,000 solar panels were installed on 240,000 square feet of rooftop space in the city’s harbor district. The system will generate 2.4 MW of electricity that will feed directly into the Entergy New Orleans Electric distribution grid to power the city.

The New Orleans project is a huge win for green energy, but its siting in an industrial district is another win for the community. The location offends no one. That’s smart siting and a huge opportunity for other cities like Indianapolis, Indiana, which is home to hundreds of large distribution centers, to follow and meet green energy and community needs.

Two: Repurpose brownfields.
Brownfield land is any previously developed land that is not currently in use that may be potentially contaminated. The term is also used to describe land previously used for industrial or commercial purposes with known or suspected pollution such as soil contamination.

Brownfield land can be safely reused with proper cleanup and restoration. Brownfield land can  be desirable locations for utility scale solar projects. For example, retired mines are considered brownfields and are required by government regulations to be restored. Mines can be the perfect sites for solar installations; they’re typically in rural areas out of sight from residential developments. Couple a solar installation with natural pollinator habitat underneath and you’ll have a point of pride – and energy – for the local community.

Solential isn’t the only one with this smart siting idea. The Reclaiming Appalachia Coalition is a non-profit that awards grants to communities that want to reclaim and reuse old mines, including turning them into green energy solar installations. Read about it here.

Three: Get creative with floatovoltaics.

The idea of placing floating pods of solar panels on retention ponds and natural bodies of water has been embraced by nations in the Far East that have limited real estate, but large energy demands. Over the last year along, floatovoltaic capacity in China, Japan, and South Korea has doubled, according to Solar Asset Management Asia. Currently, there are 70 floating solar systems between the three nations, with generating capacity ranging from 706kW to 40MW. Japan’s Kyocera recently brought a 13.7MW floatovoltaic solar system online. These installations are located on retention ponds for water treatment as well as in old mines, providing dual use for the sites, which as industrial sites, are out of sight for citizens.

Floatovoltaics are beginning to catch on here in the United States. In early September, Ameresco, in partnership with Duke Energy, announced it will build a 1.1 megawatt (MW) floating solar system on the Big Muddy Lake at Camp Mackall, a remote Special Forces training site at Fort Bragg, N.C. Under the $36 million design-build contract, Duke secures third-party financing to fund construction, and the U.S. Army pays down the financing annually with the utility savings that the project generates over the term of the contract.

This is a pretty cool deal. Being located on a remote Army base, few people will see the solar panels. Placing it on a lake preserves undeveloped land. The solar panels protect the lake from evaporation thereby preserving habitat for fish, amphibians, water birds, and other species. Again, smart siting. And, any community with a water treatment facility can likely deploy floatovoltaics on their holding ponds, saving real estate and money on  energy consumption.

The ultimate goal with smarter siting of commercial solar arrays is to sustain the earth’s resources, energy as well as farmlands and forests, and find solutions that industry, communities, and individuals can get behind. While there are no perfect solutions and there will always be trade-offs, being creative in our approaches and empathetic to stakeholders will lead to the best results. It you are considering a solar solution for your business, school, farm or water treatment facility, please connect with Solential. We are the commercial solar solution experts. You can reach me at or 317-627-4530.