Could Solar Panels Be Installed Under Power Lines?
Lack of free space to install solar panels is the biggest problem facing solar power production today.
Nonetheless, a solar enthusiast may argue, why not install solar panels in easier-to-access areas such as under power lines where there’s plenty of untapped space?
Suppose that solar panels covered the land beneath power lines in the United States, for example: couldn’t they sort out 20% of the country’s electricity demand?
But why don’t we see solar panel arrays being set up under power lines?
Is it even safe to install solar panels under power lines?
Here’s the general point to note:
For logistical and safety reasons, solar panels shouldn’t be installed under power transmission lines. This is regardless of the solar panels’ span or their intended role.
Generally, there’re no concerns with solar panels being under power lines but, if an unforeseeable event occurs, such as a power line drop on the solar modules there’ll be physical damage or to the worst a fire incident.
There are several other reasons why installing solar panels under power lines is not a good idea, and that’s what you will learn in this article.
But before we dive into that, let’s discuss the association between solar panels and power lines.
What is the interaction between solar panels and power lines?
Power lines carry AC power that can be of a wide range of voltages depending on the capabilities of the transmission lines.
Solar panels produce DC power from the sun’s energy. The amount produced depends on the size of the solar modules array and its efficiency.
Knowing this, the next question would be: can power lines cause interference in solar power production?
According to solar experts, it’s unlikely for interference to occur between AC of the grid and DC power of a solar array. So, from an electric field perspective, there’s no problem in installing solar panels under power lines.
However, magnetic fields of power transmission lines can interfere with the operation of some components of a PV solar array, such as the inverter that converts DC to AC power.
Another thing worth noting here is that the impact of the magnetic fields increases as the voltage of the power being transmitted increases. So a low voltage power line will cause less magnetic field interference to the solar panels’ components than high voltage transmission lines.
Going with the magnetic field factor alone, there’s already a hint that the area under power lines isn’t suitable for the installation of solar panels.
In addition, magnetic fields from power lines appear to be a major health hazard, but we will discuss that in more detail later.
For now, let’s find out whether the grid needs energy from solar panels.
Does the grid need some power from solar panels?
Despite efforts by the government to reduce the cost of installing solar power systems, such as offering solar tax credits to homeowners, we’ve not reached a point where solar can be an independent form of energy.
Currently, power produced by solar panel arrays is used to complement the grid’s energy.
If you produce excess solar power from a household’s PV system, you can channel it to the grid and offset some amount from your electricity bill.
Other than the complementary purpose, solar comes in handy when the grid’s power goes out.
So yes, the grid needs solar power, but this still is not an excuse to install solar panels under power transmission lines.
Below are reasons why a solar panel installation under power lines is highly impractical.
Reasons why not to install solar panels under power lines
The space below power lines is needed for maintenance/ upgrades
Power transmission lines need repairs or upgrades from time to time. As we all know, large bucket trucks on trucks with cranes are used for power line repairs and/or upgrades.
It is assumed that the space beneath these power transmission lines is bare to allow for these service equipment and the involved staff to maneuver.
If solar panels occupy this space, they will compromise these crucial processes.
Huge solar panels are impractical to install under power lines
If we’re talking substantial solar power farms with extensive solar panel arrays, massive generators, and step-down transformers, then an installation below power lines becomes even more impractical.
And it’s not just about the space to install these components; the actual installation and maintenance or repair processes would be a challenge to do.
Some power lines are even installed over mountainous areas where it’s not practical to install sizable solar panels arrays.
As discussed earlier, AC would not cause interference to the DC of a solar PV array, but there may be interference if the DC is directly converted to AC on the spot.
But, the real problem with power lines– especially those carrying high voltage– is that they have a highly concentrated electromagnetic field radiation (EMF) zone.
These magnetic fields can affect the operation of the components of a PV system sensitive to EMF.
This isn’t even bad news. Here’s how EMFs get even worse.
EMF is a trigger for tons of immunodeficiency and physiological diseases, including cancer. So, while you may have no hurdles installing solar panels under the power lines, you’ll be risking your health working in these high EMF zones.
In well-developed regions, the area under power lines is already utilized
Even if it were possible to install solar panels under power lines, it wouldn’t be possible in some regions.
For example, in well-developed countries, the area under power lines is used for road networks, agriculture, residential and industrial establishments. So, when the space is already occupied, it’s outright obvious that solar modules can’t be installed there.
The power generated by solar panels is valuable, especially since the world is transitioning to renewable energy (in a bid to save the environment from fossil fuel pollution). However, there’s no reason to use space that would be better allocated to other crucial practices such as agriculture.
Unrealistic for a small solar panels array
Assuming that you want a solar panel setup for your home; would you choose the area under the transmission line – which for a home is insignificant – or your rooftop? Definitely the latter.
And if you were to choose any other place in your home, it’d be in a clear space where the sun will travel directly to the solar modules without meeting any obstacles.
Shading by power lines could be one of the challenges your solar panel system faces if you choose to ignore all the factors mentioned above.
While this may be insignificant in areas with extended sunlight hours, it’ll significantly reduce solar panels’ efficiency in areas with less sunlight intensity and sunlight hours.
Power lines can cause physical damage to solar panels
Harsh weather is not only responsible for power outages. Sometimes a storm, strong winds, or heavy ice accumulation could cause power transmission lines to fall. If they land on solar panels, there’ll be physical damage and consequent problems such as microcracks, ultimately compromising the modules’ operation.
You never know– a power line drop could even cause your solar panels to go up in flames or even blow them up. Undoubtedly, this is the last thing you would want happening near a high voltage transmission line.
The harm caused by a power line drop goes beyond physical damage to the solar modules.
A power line drop can potentially result in an earth fault or ground rise. Further, if the solar PV system isn’t appropriately earthed, there may be voltage-transfer issues on nearby domestic appliances, telephones, and TV services.
For areas with clearance requirements, installing solar panels is a violation of the rules
I know installing solar panels under power lines in your area may not be prohibited, but this isn’t the case for every other place.
Some regions have set clearance rules that prohibit any activities or establishments from being done under power lines. This is mainly done for safety reasons, especially if the transmission lines are high voltage.
So, to be on the safe side– both for your own good and for the sake of the law– you shouldn’t install solar panels under the power lines.
So, considering all this, there’s no doubt that the space below power lines isn’t fit for installing solar panels.
Now that we know why installing solar panels under power lines is not workable, it’d be great to know the minimum safe distance solar panels should be from power lines.
How far should solar panels be from power lines?
Whether there’re regulations about the utilization of the space under power lines or not in your area, the more distance between your solar panels and the power lines, the better.
But for optimum efficiency, the minimum safe distance solar panels should be installed from power lines should be 200m.
According to the Electricity Supply Board (ESB), Ireland, if a solar farm has to be near a transmission line, then it should have demountable solar panels to allow for quick dismantling in case a repair is needed.
It seems that there are so many constraints that make installing solar panels under power lines a terrible idea. So, where should you install them instead?
What are the best places to install solar panels?
There’re so many places to install solar panels to achieve decent solar power generation while not compromising other crucial activities. Here are few examples of these areas:
- On the roof, if your roofing structure is simple and extensive
- On windows, if you have a tall building with a vast glass pane surface area.
- A ground mount in the backyard
- On the bottom or sides of a swimming pool
- Over a pergola or patio as a cover
So, before you let the idea of installing solar panels under power lines, check if any of the above spaces are a viable option for you.
More solar panels or more power lines? What holds the future of energy?
Many countries have to decide whether to increase the number of solar panels arrays or install more power lines to improve electricity transmission.
There’s a need to upgrade old power lines and add new ones to areas without electricity, but experts say that installing solar panels is the better option.
Some reasons to support this include:
- On a long-term basis, solar energy is cheaper to produce than electricity
- Unlike electricity, solar is a clean, nonpolluting energy source
- There’s no way solar power can be depleted because it’s renewable
- Solar power can be produced anywhere since it’s sourced from a free, readily available resource
How do you connect solar panels to the grid?
For solar power to be channeled to the grid, it must be converted from DC to AC. If you have an already functional solar PV system in your home, high chances are you already have an inverter installed.
In this case, you just need to wire the inverter to a specific point after the main electric breaker (load-side connection) or before the breaker (supply-side connection). The former is the most common method of connecting solar to the grid.
Does solar need transmission lines?
Absolutely. It is necessary to transmit solar energy from solar power generating facilities to energy demand locations.
According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, transmission lines for solar in the US have been focused on the intrastate scope.
But to achieve efficient transmission of solar power, there’s a need to design high capacity solar transmission lines through federal as well as state efforts.
For technical, safety, and logical reasons, installing solar panels under power lines should be avoided.
Even if there may be no regulations in your area regarding the use of the space below power lines, you should find alternative areas to install your solar panels.
Considering the constraints we discussed in this post, installing solar panels under power lines is not brilliant or even worth it.