Solar plants are already an established energy standard used widely in the world. Let’s dig deeper into the basics of solar plant design and how PVcase can significantly help you with this solar farm design guide. Get to know how to design a solar plant.

What are solar plants?

Solar plants, also known as solar power plants or solar farms, refer to large-scale installations designed to harness solar energy and convert it into electricity. They are built to generate electricity on a significant scale using solar panels or mirrors to capture sunlight. These plants utilize photovoltaic (PV) technology or concentrated solar power (CSP) systems to convert solar energy into usable electrical energy.

Solar PV farms consist of arrays of solar panels comprising numerous photovoltaic cells. These cells absorb sunlight and convert it directly into electricity through the photovoltaic effect. The generated electricity can be fed into the electrical grid or power-specific applications.

Concentrated solar power plants use mirrors or lenses to focus sunlight onto a receiver, which then heats a fluid to produce steam. The steam drives a turbine, which generates electricity. CSP systems can also store thermal energy, allowing for electricity production even when the sun is not shining.

Solar PV plants are typically situated in locations with ample sunlight and large open areas. They can be found in various forms, such as ground-mounted installations or rooftop systems. These plants are vital in promoting renewable energy generation, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and diversifying the energy mix, contributing to a more sustainable and environmentally friendly power generation infrastructure.

How do solar plants work?

Solar PV farms harness the energy from the sun to generate electricity on a large scale. These plants utilize photovoltaic (PV) technology or concentrated solar power (CSP) systems to convert sunlight into usable electrical energy. Here’s an overview of how each type of solar plant works.

Photovoltaic (PV) solar plants

Solar PV plants use arrays of solar panels, which consist of numerous interconnected solar cells made of semiconductor materials like silicon. The process involves the following steps:

1. Solar panels capture sunlight. When sunlight falls on the solar panels, the photons (particles of light) transfer their energy to the electrons in the solar cells.

2. Generation of electricity. This energy causes the electrons to become energized, creating direct current (DC) electricity flow. The panels are typically arranged in large arrays to generate substantial power.

3. Inverter conversion. The DC electricity generated by the solar panels is converted into alternating current (AC) electricity using inverters. AC electricity is the standard form of electricity used in most homes and businesses.

4. Transmission and distribution. The AC electricity is then sent to a transformer, where it is stepped up to a higher voltage for efficient transmission through power lines. It is then distributed to consumers through the electrical grid for use.

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Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) plants

CSP plants use mirrors or lenses to concentrate sunlight onto a central receiver, which generates heat. The heat is then produced through a steam turbine or other heat transfer mechanisms. Here’s a simplified explanation of how CSP plants work.

1. Solar concentration. Mirrors or lenses track the sun’s movement and concentrate sunlight onto a focal point or receiver. This concentration of sunlight increases the temperature at the receiver.

2. Heat transfer and storage. The receiver absorbs the concentrated sunlight and transfers the heat to a heat-transfer fluid or material, such as molten salt or oil. This fluid can store the heat for later use, allowing for power generation even when the sun is not shining.

3. Steam generation. The heated fluid is used to produce high-pressure steam, which drives a turbine connected to a generator. The generator converts the mechanical energy of the turbine into electrical energy.

4. Power generation and distribution. The generated electricity is then transmitted, transformed, and distributed through the electrical grid to meet the energy needs of consumers.

PV solar plants and CSP plants contribute to renewable energy generation, reducing reliance on fossil fuels and decreasing greenhouse gas emissions. The choice between the two depends on location, available resources, and project requirements.

Types of solar PV plants

There are primarily two types of solar plants: photovoltaic (PV) solar plants and concentrated solar power (CSP) plants. Let’s explore each type in more detail.

Photovoltaic (PV) solar plants

Solar PV plants generate electricity directly from sunlight using solar panels composed of interconnected solar cells. The two main types of PV solar plants are:

Ground-Mounted PV solar plants. These solar plants consist of large-scale arrays of solar panels mounted on the ground. To maximize solar energy capture, they can cover vast areas, such as open fields or deserts. Ground-mounted PV solar plants are commonly used for utility-scale solar power generation.

Rooftop PV solar plants. These solar plants are installed on the rooftops of buildings, including residential, commercial, and industrial structures. Rooftop PV systems can generate electricity for on-site consumption, reducing dependence on the grid and providing energy self-sufficiency. Excess electricity can be fed back into the grid through net metering programs.

Agrivoltaics. Agrivoltaics, a form of solar sharing or dual land use, is a concept that combines agriculture and photovoltaic (PV) systems, allowing for the simultaneous use of land for crop cultivation and solar energy production. It involves the installation of solar panels above or alongside agricultural fields or grazing land, creating a synergy between food or crop production and renewable energy generation.

Concentrated solar power (CSP) plants

CSP plants use mirrors or lenses to concentrate sunlight onto a central receiver, which converts the sunlight into heat energy. The heat energy is then used to generate electricity through various mechanisms. The main types of CSP plants include:

Parabolic trough systems. These CSP plants use long, curved mirrors (parabolic troughs) that track the sun’s movement to concentrate sunlight onto a receiver tube at the focal line. The receiver tube contains a heat transfer fluid heated to high temperatures. The heated fluid generates steam, which drives a turbine connected to a generator.

Solar power tower systems. In this type of CSP plant, an array of mirrors called heliostats tracks and reflects sunlight onto a central receiver mounted atop a tower. The receiver absorbs the concentrated sunlight and heats a heat transfer fluid, such as molten salt or oil. The heated fluid then produces steam and generates electricity through a turbine.

Dish stirling systems. These CSP plants use large, dish-shaped mirrors that concentrate sunlight onto a receiver at the focal point. The receiver contains a Stirling engine, which operates on the temperature difference between the hot side (exposed to concentrated sunlight) and the cold side. The Stirling engine converts heat energy into mechanical energy, which is then used to generate electricity.

Each type of solar plant has advantages and suitability for specific applications based on location, available resources, efficiency, and desired power output.

Utility and community scale

Solar plants can also be utility and community scale:

1. Community-scale solar plants, also known as community solar gardens or shared solar projects, are solar energy installations collectively owned and operated by a group of individuals or organizations within a local community. These projects allow community members to access the benefits of solar energy even if they cannot install solar panels on their properties, such as in cases where their homes are not suitable for solar installations, or they are renters.

2. Utility-scale solar plants, also known as solar farms or solar power plants, are large-scale solar energy installations designed to generate electricity on a utility or grid scale. These solar facilities are typically developed and owned by utility companies, independent power producers (IPPs), or renewable energy developers. Here are some key features and benefits of utility-scale solar plants.

What is the benefit of solar PV plants?

Solar PV plants offer several benefits, contributing to the global shift towards clean and sustainable energy sources. Here are some key advantages of solar plants:

Renewable and sustainable. Solar plants harness energy from the sun, which is a renewable resource. Solar power can be generated as long as the sun shines, making it a virtually inexhaustible energy source. Solar energy helps reduce reliance on finite fossil fuel reserves and provides a sustainable power generation solution.

Environmentally friendly. Solar power is a clean energy source that produces less greenhouse gas emissions than fossil fuels. By using solar energy, solar plants help combat climate change and reduce air pollution, improving overall air quality and public health.

Energy independence and security. Solar plants contribute to energy independence by diversifying energy sources. With solar power, countries and regions can decrease their dependence on imported fossil fuels and mitigate the geopolitical risks associated with energy supply. Solar plants can promote energy security by utilizing a local and abundant energy resource.

Cost-effective. Over the years, solar technology has become increasingly cost-effective due to advancements in manufacturing and economies of scale. Solar plants offer an attractive option for generating electricity as the cost of solar panels and associated equipment decreases. Moreover, solar power has low operational and maintenance costs, making it economically viable in the long term.

Job creation and economic growth. The solar industry has the potential to create a significant number of jobs across various stages, such as manufacturing, installation, operation, and maintenance of solar plants. Solar plants can stimulate local economies, attract investments, and contribute to the growth of a clean energy sector.

Scalability and modular design. Solar plants can be built on various scales, ranging from small residential installations to large utility-scale projects. This scalability allows solar power to be adapted to different energy needs, whether powering individual homes or supplying electricity to entire communities.

Off-grid power solutions. Solar plants, combined with energy storage systems, enable the provision of electricity in remote areas or regions with limited access to the power grid. Off-grid solar installations can bring electricity to rural communities, improving living conditions, supporting education, and fostering economic development.

Solar plants provide a sustainable and reliable source of electricity, reduce carbon emissions, and offer numerous socioeconomic benefits. Continued advancements in solar technology and supportive policies can further enhance the widespread adoption of solar power as a vital component of the global energy transition.

How to design a solar plant

The design of a solar power plant involves several key steps to ensure its efficiency and effectiveness. Here’s a general outline of the process:

A feasibility study. Begin by conducting a feasibility study to assess the viability of the solar plant. Consider factors such as available land, solar resource potential, grid connection feasibility, environmental impact, and regulatory requirements.

Site selection. Identify suitable locations for the solar plant based on factors like solar irradiance, topography, land availability, proximity to transmission infrastructure, and environmental considerations.

Solar resource assessment. Perform a detailed solar resource assessment to determine the solar energy potential of the selected site. This involves analyzing historical weather data, solar radiation levels, and shading analysis.

System sizing. Determine the capacity of the solar power plant based on the energy demand or the intended purpose of the project. Consider factors such as electricity consumption, peak demand, and specific project requirements.

Technology selection. Choose the appropriate solar technology for the plant, such as photovoltaic (PV) or concentrated solar power (CSP) systems. Consider each technology option’s efficiency, cost, reliability, and suitability for the specific project.

Solar plant layout and design. Develop a detailed design and layout plan for the solar power plant. This includes positioning solar panels or mirrors, determining the tilt and orientation angles, and optimizing the arrangement for maximum energy production.

Electrical design. Create an electrical design that includes the configuration of solar panels, wiring, solar cabling, inverters, transformers, and other components. Ensure compliance with local electrical codes and regulations.

Interconnection and grid integration. Determine the best approach for connecting the solar plant to the electrical grid. Coordinate with local utilities and obtain necessary permits for interconnection. Design an effective grid integration system to ensure smooth power flow and compliance with grid requirements.

Civil and structural design. Develop the solar plant’s civil and structural design plans, including foundations, mounting structures, and support systems. Consider factors such as wind loads, seismic activity, and environmental conditions.

Environmental impact assessment. Assess the potential environmental impact of the solar power plant, including land use, water consumption, and effects on local flora and fauna. Implement mitigation measures to minimize any adverse effects.

Project economics. Conduct a financial analysis to evaluate the economic viability of the solar plant. Consider capital costs, operational expenses, revenue generation, incentives, and return on investment.

Construction and commissioning. Execute the construction phase, ensuring adherence to the design plans and safety standards. Install the solar panels, electrical components, and other necessary infrastructure. Commission the plant and conduct thorough testing to ensure its proper functioning.

Operation and maintenance. Develop a comprehensive operation and maintenance plan for the solar power plant. This includes regular inspections, cleaning of panels, equipment maintenance, performance monitoring, and troubleshooting.

Monitoring and performance analysis. Implement a monitoring system to track the solar power plant’s performance continuously. Analyze the data collected to identify and address any issues and optimize energy production promptly.

Remember that designing a solar power plant requires expertise in various fields, including engineering, electrical systems, environmental impact assessment, and project management. Engaging professionals with experience in solar plant design is crucial to ensure a successful and efficient project.

PVcase and Anderson Optimization solar farm design software can help you in different cases. AO can help you with site selection, while PVcase Yield can help you calculate your power plant’s costs and sustainability. PVcase Ground Mount and Roof Mount tools can help you to streamline your design process and improve the speed and accuracy of your solar farm designs.

How to set up a solar plant

Setting up a solar power plant involves several steps: planning, procurement, installation, and commissioning. Here are the general steps of the process.

Project Planning

– Define the goals and objectives of the solar power plant project.
– Conduct a feasibility study to assess the technical and economic viability of the project.
– Identify potential locations for the solar plant based on solar resource availability, land availability, and proximity to the electrical grid.


– Determine the project’s financial requirements and explore financing options.
– Seek funding through investors, banks, grants, or government incentives.
– Develop a detailed financial plan, including cost estimates, return on investment analysis, and cash flow projections.

Permits and approvals

– Obtain necessary permits and approvals from local authorities, utility companies, and relevant regulatory bodies.
– Ensure compliance with environmental regulations, land-use permits, and grid connection requirements.


– Identify and engage suppliers and contractors for solar power plant components, such as solar panels, inverters, mounting structures, and electrical equipment.
– Evaluate potential suppliers based on factors like quality, reliability, price, and warranty terms.
– Procure the required equipment and negotiate contracts with suppliers and contractors.

Engineering and design

– Engage experienced engineers and designers to develop detailed engineering plans and designs for the solar power plant.
– Determine the system size, solar farm layout design, solar panels to use, electrical design, and interconnection details.
– Ensure compliance with relevant engineering standards and codes.

Construction and installation

– Prepare the site by clearing the land, ground grading, and installing access roads.
– Construct the necessary infrastructure, such as foundations, mounting structures, and electrical systems.
– Install solar panels, inverters, transformers, and other equipment as per the engineering designs.
– Ensure adherence to safety standards and quality control during the construction phase.

Commissioning and testing

– Perform thorough testing of all equipment and systems to ensure proper functioning.
– Connect the solar power plant to the electrical grid and conduct grid integration tests.
– Verify the performance of the solar power plant under different conditions, such as varying solar irradiance levels.

Operations and maintenance

– Develop an operations and maintenance plan for the solar power plant.
– Inspect and maintain the solar panels, electrical systems, and other components regularly.
– Monitor performance, collect data, and analyze the plant’s energy generation to promptly identify and address any issues.
– Schedule periodic cleaning of solar panels to optimize their efficiency.

Monitoring and performance analysis

– Implement a monitoring system to track the solar power plant’s performance continuously.
– Collect and analyze data on energy generation, system efficiency, and other performance metrics.
– Use the data to optimize plant operations, identify opportunities for improvement, and ensure maximum energy production.

Reporting and compliance

– Comply with reporting requirements, including energy generation reports, environmental impact assessments, and regulatory filings.
– Maintain permits, warranties, contracts, and financial records documentation.
– Remember that setting up a solar power plant requires expertise in various areas, including project management, engineering, procurement, and construction. Engaging experienced professionals or consultants with a track record in solar power plant installations is advisable to ensure a successful and efficient setup process.

PVcase solar farm design tools can help you. Our Ground Mount and Roof Mount tools can help in the design stages, while our Yield software is helpful in the project planning phase. Anderson Optimization can also help you to choose your site successfully.

How much does it cost?

The cost of building a solar power plant can vary widely depending on numerous factors, such as the size and capacity of the plant, the location, the technology chosen, the cost of labor and materials, and any additional infrastructure requirements.

In September 2021, a 1 MW solar power plant could cost between $1 million and $3 million. However, it’s worth noting that smaller-scale projects or projects in certain regions may have higher costs due to various factors such as economies of scale, access to materials, and local labor costs.

Additionally, it’s essential to consider that the costs of solar power plants have decreased over time due to technological advancements and increased adoption.

To obtain more accurate and recent cost estimates for building a solar power plant, we recommend consulting with solar project developers, engineering firms, or industry reports that provide specific data on project costs in your region.

You also need to evaluate the following factors:

– Design. The size of the project and its design peculiarities determine the cost.
– The price of materials.
– The financing options that are available in your country.
– Location costs. It depends on the country you operate in. It can affect the land rent costs, the available subsidies, state policies, etc.
– Labor and maintenance costs. Again, the workforce costs depend on the location in which you built your plant.

Here are the costs that comprise the construction of a plant as per EnergySage:

Hard costs:

– Solar panels: 12%
– Inverters: 10%
– Racking and mounting equipment: 3%
– Wiring: 9%
Supply chain: 9%

Soft costs:

– Labor: 7%
– Permitting and interconnection: 8%
– Sales and marketing: 18%
– Overhead: 11%
– Profit: 11%

Here is the approximate cost of a solar plant in the US as provided by EnergySage:

Ten best practices to design with PVcase

Here are the ten tips and tricks for using PVcase solar farm design software effectively:

– You can split your site into multiple working areas, allowing for a finer design.
– You can manually alter the frame positions before stringing and modify the combiner/inverter/transformer positions before cable generation;
– Cable trenches should be placed so that all devices have a direct line of sight.
– No terrain data? No problem! Online terrain import lets you start working with basic terrain data from the get-go. You can update the frame placement accordingly once you get more accurate terrain data later in the project development process.
– You can use terrain-following trackers to mitigate grading.
– You can adapt drawings from other solutions to PVcase GM by opening them, selecting a valid object, and utilizing the Convert to PVcase function.
– The Civil analysis toolset allows engineers to identify potential mechanical and installation challenges and work to mitigate them.
– You can customize the piling layout of a frame type for the entire working area or on a frame-by-frame basis.
– You can fully customize the labeling of the electrical devices.
– You can export a comprehensive BOM and SLD using PVcase GM.


Solar farm design is a complex process involving various decisions and calculations. However, PVcase solar plant design software can help to simplify the process. Our tools can help you with complex calculations and site selection.

Ready for solar farm design? Get started with PVcase. Schedule a demo now!