Renewable Energy

An Introduction to Solar Energy

An Introduction to Solar Energy

Driven by government incentives and climate goals, interest in sustainable sources of energy has been steadily increasing. In fact, the share of renewable energy in electricity generation is now expected to rise to 24% by 2030. Consequently, more and more developers are diversifying their portfolios away from carbon-intensive fossil fuels to prioritize renewable energy. In keeping pace with this growing trend, we’ve launched a blog series focusing on different energy sources and best practices to consider before and during development.  

What is solar energy?
Solar energy is generated when sunlight is converted into electricity. Sunlight is composed of photons, which are units of light energy. When sunlight reaches the earth, that energy can be captured via solar panels and transformed into usable energy in the form of electricity. When sunlight hits a solar panel, the photons are absorbed by the panel's photovoltaic cells, which convert the energy into electricity. The electricity is then sent to an inverter, and then on to power homes and businesses.

For best access to the sun’s rays, solar panels are usually mounted on rooftops or on the ground, and they can be deployed on individual homes and small businesses or in large-scale commercial installations, usually on significant acreage. In any scenario, each solar panel is connected to a grid or battery system that can store excess energy for use when the sun is not shining.

While all renewable energy sectors have been growing, the solar energy sector has experienced particularly rapid expansion. Solar energy has seen an average annual growth rate of 33% over the past decade—making it the fastest-growing source of electricity in the world—and this trend is expected to continue. This growth rate is due to a range of factors. First, the cost of solar panels has steadily decreased, which means that it is becoming more cost-effective for consumers and businesses to invest in solar energy. Second, government incentives and policies, such as tax credits and renewable energy mandates, have made solar energy a more attractive source of electricity. And finally, shifting preferences have led many consumers to opt for clean renewable energy like solar over more polluting energy sources. 

What are some of the benefits of solar energy?
Solar energy offers many benefits, one of the biggest being that it is a sustainable source of energy that produces no greenhouse gas emissions or other pollutants. Many consumers and developers prefer solar to traditional energy sources like coal and natural gas, which are major contributors to climate change and air pollution. 

Solar energy is also reliable. The sun will continue to shine and provide energy for billions of years without ever being depleted. In addition, solar energy is easy to access, because solar panels can be placed virtually anywhere the sun shines. No drilling, complex equipment installation, or remote operations are required.  

Finally, because solar energy is available across the US, we can achieve greater energy security and eliminate many of the challenges of relying on fossil fuels, like navigating ever-changing climate regulations, handling price fluctuations or supply disruptions, and negotiating contracts across borders.

What do solar energy projects entail?
There are plenty of new solar energy projects in the works; according to the International Energy Agency, solar energy should account for 60% of new power capacity additions by 2025. That amount of new capacity will require large-scale installations following site selection and land acquisition, permitting, financing, and other processes 

The first step in the land acquisition process is site selection. Developers look for locations with high levels of solar radiation, easy existing access to transmission lines, and low land costs. In the event that no transmission lines exist currently, the selection process will involve identifying adjacent sites to serve as easements that will allow new utilities and transmission lines to be run. They should also evaluate environmental factors such as wildlife habitat and proximity to protected areas like wetlands. 

Once a site has been identified, developers must negotiate a lease or purchase agreement with the landowner. Detailing out the agreement can be complex and involve frequent discussions on lease or purchase price, the lease or purchase duration, and the right to access the land during construction and operation of the solar panels.

After finalizing a lease or purchase agreement, developers must obtain all of the necessary permits and approvals from various government agencies. This process can be especially difficult and time-consuming, as it requires reviewing documents like environmental studies, holding or attending public hearings, and consulting with various stakeholders. The permits needed can also vary depending on the location and size of the solar energy project, though they typically include pulling environmental permits, land use permits, and building permits. 


Clearly, the outlook for solar energy is robust, and developers are preparing to capitalize on new opportunities. As they do so, we expect to see increased interest in acquiring new acreage for commercial solar panel installations and a growing need for land development expertise along the way. 


Cinco supports companies across the US with land and title issues related to oil and gas, renewable energy development, legal matters, insurance underwriting and more. 

This is part of our introductory series on renewable energy, covering geothermal, solar, wind, and battery storage.

For more information about solar energy projects or for answers to questions on the land acquisition and development process, reach out to us.

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