11 Civil Engineering Considerations for Developing a Large Solar Array

Landowners interested in developing a solar array on a 15–acre or larger site have several important civil engineering considerations to factor into their decision making. Below is an overview of the process and design considerations, taking into account factors like slope, topography, stormwater management, bedrock, soil, and grasses.

Available Power – Assess the availability of three–phase power in reasonable proximity to the site.

Site Assessment – Gather data on the site’s topography, slope, soil conditions, water courses, wetlands, and vegetation. This may involve topographic surveys, geotechnical investigations, and ecological assessments.

Solar Array Layout – Maximize solar exposure and energy production. Factors like shading from nearby structures or vegetation are taken into account. Ideally, the solar panels should be oriented to optimize energy capture.

Structural Engineering – Design the support structures for the solar panels, taking into account the weight of the panels and the local wind and snow loads. They may choose from fixed–tilt systems, single–axis trackers, or dual–axis trackers, depending on the site’s characteristics and budget.

Grading and Slope Considerations – Evaluate the impact of the terrain on the solar array layout and foundation design. Grading and earthwork may be necessary to create a level surface for the solar panels. Slope analysis is essential to ensure stability and prevent erosion.

Geotechnical Investigation and Foundation Design – Determine the soil properties and bedrock depth. This information is crucial for designing the appropriate foundation systems that will support the solar array.

Stormwater Management – Prevent erosion, flooding, and the sedimentation of nearby water bodies. Engineers may design swales, retention ponds, or other stormwater control measures to manage runoff effectively.

Environmental Impact Assessment – Identify protected habitats or endangered species to comply with environmental regulations. Implement measures to minimize the impact of the solar array on the ecosystem.

Vegetation Management – Minimize shading of the panels or interference with the solar tracking system. Native grasses or vegetation may be selected to promote biodiversity and soil health.

Access Roads and Infrastructure – Design access roads and infrastructure for construction and maintenance vehicles. These roads should be built to withstand heavy loads and ensure easy access to the solar array.

Permitting and Regulatory Compliance – Obtain required environmental, zoning, and construction permits to comply with local, state, and federal regulations.

Each solar array project is unique, and the civil engineering process will vary based on the specific characteristics of the site. The BAI Group takes a multidisciplinary approach to solar development that involves in-house civil engineers, geologists, environmental experts, and a construction team. With this array of capabilities, BAI can quickly identify and resolve issues that arise during construction that might otherwise delay completion or significantly increase costs.

For over 35 years, the BAI Group has provided technical consulting services to private and public entities typically involved with environmental development projects. The services we traditionally provide our clients include studies, designs, permit applications, construction management/CQA along with other compliance monitoring and reporting activities. Contact us today for a cost-effective approach to your renewable energy system needs.