New innovations are constantly being developed in the rapidly evolving field of wind energy, solar energy and energy storage. The first phase in the life cycle of our three technologies is development.
Renewable energy project development relies on innovative vision, careful planning and a lot of hard work. This applies both to consumers looking to generate and store power at their own property, and to multinational companies wanting to invest in a utility-scale development project.
In all cases, community engagement and siting considerations are paramount.
Selecting the best site for new wind and solar developments is critical for the success of the project.
On a practical level, it makes sense to build where there is an optimal amount of wind or solar resources. Measurements are taken to ensure these are strong and consistently available. The location must also allow for a connection to be made to the grid, or for power can be provided to the final customer.
Sophisticated computational tools are used to explore all the hills, valleys, vegetation, wildlife, buildings, existing infrastructure and other factors that may impact the site, while experts work out how to position every solar panel or wind turbine for the greatest energy capture.
It is also critical for a project to be sited responsibly and sustainably. Developers must consider all the potential impacts of a wind or solar energy development on the environment, including wildlife, plant biodiversity and natural-heritage features, and plan carefully to avoid and reduce any impacts.
Developers also explore ways for the site to benefit the environment. For example, by repurposing the bulk of the site for native wildlife and pollinator habitat, as well as complementary agricultural activities, such as rotational grazing to improve soil carbon sequestration.
The land can also be retained for farming, as crops can be planted to the base of turbines and harvested with the usual machinery. For ranchers, livestock can continue to graze on land in and around the towers, even while the tower is in operation.
These beneficial land uses are possible on a solar or wind site for two reasons: one, because they are so stable—once the equipment is installed, there is minimal need for human intervention for 25 to 40 years.
And two, because they are, in many cases, so widely spaced—for example, only a small portion (approximately five percent) of a wind farm’s total area is occupied by equipment, as wind turbines measure just eight to ten metres at the base and are spaced 250 to 800 metres apart.
No wind- or solar-energy project can succeed without a strong base of community support. After all, these projects will become an integral part of the host communities for an extended period of time.
A key component of the project-development process is for the developers to engage extensively with host communities. Developers need to ensure they understand the community’s priorities and then reflect these priorities in the project design.
Companies spearheading any renewable energy development must also explore and clearly communicate the economic benefits of this project, both for the community and for individual landowners who make their land available for the project.
It is critical to work with host communities to ensure these benefits are realized to an optimal level, as part of a responsible development process.
The Canadian Renewable Energy Association strives to support its members throughout the community engagement process. Some useful resources include:
Explore all the content in the “Life Cycle” section of the website to learn more about the four phases of the life cycle of our technologies: Phase 1: Development. Phase 2: Construction and Installation. Phase 3: Operations and Maintenance. Phase 4: Repowering and Decommissioning.