Turning dead land, unused space into revenue with solar partnerships

dead land

Many developers and property owners end up with sections of land that can’t be developed. Referred to as “dead land,” these areas are unusable for a variety of reasons, including regulatory limitations, environmental contamination, or flood zone designation. As a result, dead land becomes a frustrating drain on resources, increasing maintenance costs and representing lost revenue potential.’

However, it also opens the door to an innovative opportunity. Developers and owners can transform unusable spaces into valuable assets by partnering with a solar company.

Solar companies are increasingly seeking to install solar arrays in dead land and underutilized areas like rooftops, brownfields, and even over parking lots and landfills. It’s a win-win:

  • Solar companies can generate and sell more clean renewable energy to utility companies and individual customers, as well as take advantage of tax incentives.
  • Developers and owners not only gain financially by building attractive revenue streams into their projects, collecting rent, and often offsetting their own energy costs, but also by having a positive impact on their community and growing their reputations for using land responsibly.

Here’s what you need to know to unlock this revenue stream.

Site considerations

The most important question is whether or not your property is suitable for solar development. Installing solar panels requires careful consideration of multiple factors, all of which determine the opportunities available to you:

  1. Site size, orientation, shading, and grid access
  2. Zoning regulations
  3. Types of available space

Size, orientation, shading, and grid access | The size of the solar array depends on the amount of energy the solar company desires to generate, which is influenced by the efficiency of the solar panels and the system layout.

As an example, imagine a community solar project requires a 1 MW solar array. If placed on land, the solar company will need approximately 3 to 5 acres. But if that same 1 MW solar array is placed on a rooftop, it will require about 100,000 square feet, roughly 2.5 acres.

Solar developers also need to consider orientation, shading, and access to the local power grid when selecting a site. In some cases, a smaller site with better grid access may be preferable to a larger but poorly oriented site with challenging grid access. 

Zoning regulations | Solar arrays are permitted by-right in many zones and across many jurisdictions throughout the U.S. To find out if your property is situated in one of these zones, contact a knowledgeable local land development professional. You can also check your local zoning ordinance or land use regulations to see if solar panel installations are addressed.

Additionally, certain states have laws requiring zoning boards to permit solar installations on residential and commercial properties. These laws are intended to promote the use of solar energy and reduce barriers to solar adoption. Contact your state’s energy office or solar energy association to find out if such a law applies to you.  

Type of available space | Solar panels can be installed across a wide variety of space types, all of which have different requirements.

In the case of wetlands, flood zones, or contaminated areas, careful planning and compliance with regulations is imperative. In addition to local approvals, permits from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or the Army Corps of Engineers may be required. Often, an environmental impact assessment (EIA) evaluating the potential environmental effects of the solar array will also be needed. This assessment covers the impact on the land, as well as on wildlife and nearby habitats.

As with any development, unique characteristics of the site must also be considered, including grading, soil composition, drainage, and water table. Hazardous materials or contaminants must be removed, and specialized equipment and techniques may be needed during construction to minimize disruption to the area.

Installing solar arrays over parking lots to create what’s known as carports is becoming increasingly popular for businesses and organizations seeking to generate renewable energy and also provide covered parking for employees, customers, or visitors.

The design of solar carport systems needs to account for the number of parking spaces to be covered, the load-bearing capacity of the structure, and the electrical requirements of the solar panels. Construction typically involves the installation of support posts, a structural frame, and solar panels. Wiring and electrical components will also be installed to connect the solar panels to the building’s electrical system.

Finally, installing solar panels on commercial rooftops can be an excellent way to generate additional revenue and save on energy. This process requires a site evaluation to assess factors such as the orientation of the rooftop, shading from nearby buildings or trees, and the structural integrity of the rooftop.

Regular maintenance of the solar panel system will make certain it continues to function properly and efficiently. Maintenance involves cleaning the solar panels, inspecting electrical components, and monitoring performance. 

Ease: A Hidden Benefit of Solar Partnership

Clearly, solar projects are complex. However, there’s one valuable benefit of solar partnership we’ve yet to cover – solar development requires minimal effort from developers and property owners. In fact, solar companies typically handle all aspects of the project, including:

  • Design
  • Development
  • Permitting
  • Installation
  • Maintenance

In short, you don’t have to worry about logistical details. Your solar partner will do the heavy lifting.

Making connections

If you’re a developer or property owner with underutilized areas of your site, or if you’re planning to build a new facility, partnering with a solar company can be a smart move.

To connect with a local solar company specializing in the installation of solar panels on commercial properties, check with regional solar energy associations or utility companies. These often maintain lists of recommended installers. Another option is to check with your local land development consultant.

Rob Streker, PE, is a seasoned land development professional with over 23 years of experience, currently at Bohler Engineering. Throughout his career, he has designed and managed a wide range of commercial and industrial projects across New Jersey, providing him with a comprehensive understanding of the local market and its unique challenges. Rob also has also helped numerous developers leverage opportunities to partner with solar companies and maximize ROI on underutilized space.

Listen to more in-depth conversations on Solar Builder's YouTube channel

Our most popular series include:

Power Forward! | A collaboration with BayWa r.e. to discuss higher level industry topics.
The Buzz | Where we give our 2 cents per kWh on the residential solar market.
The Pitch | Discussions with solar manufacturers about their new technology and ideas.


Comments are closed here.