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Clean Energy

What’s the difference between Utility-Scale and Rooftop Solar Projects?

Even those not familiar with solar energy can easily recognize solar panels. You may have seen them on your neighbors’ roofs, adorning the top of commercial buildings, or even on solar farms around the country. What you might not be familiar with is the term “utility-scale solar projects.” With such a fancy-sounding name, they’re sure to be more complicated, more expensive, and more specialized, right?

Not so fast.

At Clearloop, we’re focused on spurring the construction of more utility-scale solar projects to help clean up our grid from fossil fuels. So, we’d like to take this opportunity to dive in and talk about the benefits of utility-scale solar projects and why we’re excited about decarbonizing the grid with these zero-emission projects. 

What is Utility-Scale Solar?

Unfortunately, answering this question isn’t cut and dry. You could ask five different solar energy experts and probably receive five different answers. Even though their definitions may vary, the primary objective remains the same: connect into the power grid and sell the electricity generated right back to the local utility.  

These utility-scale solar projects essentially plug directly into the power lines you see driving down the road and provide electricity to power the everyday activities we don’t even think about (like the phone or computer you’re reading this on). 

The definition of “utility-scale solar” is typically determined by size. The Solar Energy Industries Association defines a solar project as “utility-scale” if it has a name-plate capacity of 1 million watts or 1 megawatt (MW). However, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory labels a solar project “utility-scale” if it has 5 MW of solar energy capacity. Other institutions may go even higher, using a 20 MW solar capacity threshold.

Think of this capacity as a lightbulb you’d buy for your home that says that it is 60W (watts). That’s similar to the “name-plate” label on a solar array–just much much, much bigger. This lightbulb (or in our case, solar project) generates thousands of (watt) hours to light up your home or power up your Tesla. 

The definition of utility-scale may vary, but one thing is constant, and that’s the benefits. Let’s take a look at what makes utility-scale solar so special.

It Has More Generating Capacity

When it comes to the most “bang for your buck,” utility-scale solar projects provide the most bang for the already cheaper prices. 

Utility-scale solar projects offer you much more flexibility. While rooftop solar is oftentimes limited in where it can be placed, larger projects of scale are in optimal locations with the highest amount of guaranteed sun exposure. By expanding the size of the project, utility-scale projects also provide the opportunity for battery storage, which means that we will be able to generate electricity rain or shine.  

By building more utility-scale solar capacity, we are essentially building the big infrastructure that it takes to replace existing coal and natural gas power plants that are creating more carbon emissions and polluting our planet. 

Decarbonizing our Electricity Grid at Scale 

So what do utility-scale solar projects look like? Solar farms are popping up all around the globe and are growing in popularity in the American southwest. 

Not all solar farms are created equal, however. The rule of thumb is that for every megawatt of solar capacity, you will need about 10 acres of land or about 8 football fields. 

Utility-scale solar projects also provide a way for homes and businesses that may not have solar rooftop access to make use of solar energy and help keep the grid clean.

When we go about our day—turning on our lights, charging our phones, and even plugging in our electric vehicles—we are pushing out millions of pounds of harmful carbon into our atmosphere because we’re still burning fossil fuels to power our grid.

Some places are worse off than others. 

Some communities have fewer power source choices, so it is important to build more solar projects in the dirtiest parts of the grid to clear out the carbon with zero-emission solar energy. 

Wrapping Things Up

We also think that rooftop solar is great and, if you’re able, you should definitely consider installing panels on the roof of your house or business. However, here at Clearloop, we’re focused on multiplying the benefits of utility-scale solar projects across the country.

Solar projects can take time to build–it is big infrastructure after all. However, the payoff for our future is undeniable and that is why we must start now. 

We’re ready to get to work offsetting your carbon footprint to rebuild critical infrastructure in the American communities getting left behind. Together, we can accelerate the greening of the grid and expand access to clean energy at scale right now.   

Clearloop will make sure that your business’ commitment to climate action is rooted in offsetting your carbon footprint permanently with new utility-scale solar projects. 

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Want to learn more about how to offset your carbon footprint and expand access to clean energy with Clearloop? Drop us a note at hello@clearloop.us or contact us here.

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