Each month, we strive to bring you articles on topics we are currently exploring. This month, my focus has been on power grids and solar farms and their potential to combat climate change and reduce carbon emissions. My economic development colleagues at electric utility companies have said that they have been told to “slow down” on business recruitment while the utility catches up on their generation and distribution capacity.
Therefore, I have been studying large-scale solar farm projects spanning over 1,000-2,500 acres, generating 150-350 megawatts of power, while serving as a wholesaler to electric utility companies.
However, the successful implementation of these projects hinges on specific conditions, such as access to high-capacity power grids (such as 138KV lines or higher), flat land, and large tracts of land. The convergence of these requirements limits project possibilities, as finding suitable locations with all these attributes can be challenging.
In my exploration of power grids, I learned that vast stretches of land lacks high-capacity distribution lines, or those that do exist are at capacity. This infrastructure gap raises concerns about the potential hindrance to economic development in certain regions. Insufficient power infrastructure not only limits the establishment of solar farms but also impedes the attraction of manufacturing facilities and other power-intensive industries.
The energy demands of AI and High-Performance Data Centers (HDC) is compounding the issue. I learned that AI applications, such as GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) computing, consume significantly more power than traditional CPU (Central Processing Unit) operations, exceeding the CPU’s power consumption by a factor of over ten.
Consequently, existing data centers must be retrofitted with high-performance computer infrastructures to support AI workloads. These new data centers are likely to locate in colder climates, such as North Dakota, to address the cooling requirements of GPU-intensive computing, which generates substantial heat due to its high-power consumption.
The implications of these developments for economic development are two-fold. Firstly, it is crucial for economic development organizations to closely monitor the transmission and distribution systems in their areas and assess their capacity to meet existing and future power demands. Inadequate power supply not only affects current industries but also limits potential locations for new businesses.
Having a solar farm in the vicinity can be highly advantageous, as it enables direct power supply to manufacturing facilities through combined solar and battery systems, effectively meeting the energy needs of data centers and other power-intensive operations.
Moreover, an increasing number of manufacturers are implementing on-site solar panel systems to reduce their reliance on utility companies and lower electricity costs. Therefore, understanding solar energy and its impact on local power availability is vital for attracting and retaining businesses.
One interesting aspect we had not considered is a 50% reduction in the power output of solar panels in the Midwest and Northeast U.S. due to the smoke from the wildfires in Canada.
In my pursuit of knowledge, I found YouTube to be a valuable source of information on solar farms, solar energy, and power grid dynamics. I encourage you to explore the following links, which provide helpful insights.
- GIS Map of U.S. Electric Power Transmission Lines – zoom in to your area.
- Building a solar farm – the ins and outs of building your own.
- Solar Panel Expert Julian Todd-Borden – Learning about solar panels.
Stay tuned for our next report, where we will continue to delve into exciting topics that shape our learning journey.