Solar panels are supported by steel or aluminum racks. The racks are attached to galvanized steel posts driven 6-8 feet into the ground without concrete, although very occasionally, site conditions require the use of cement grout in the pile hole. The only concrete is generally at the inverter/transformer pads which are typically about 10’ by 20’ each. There is usually no more than one such pad per MW of AC capacity. At some sites these pads are precast concrete or steel skids that sit above grade on helical steel piers. Much of the wiring at the site is above-ground attached to the racking under the rows of panels. The rest of the wiring is 2 to 3 feet underground either as direct-bury cables or in 2”-6” PVC conduit. Most sites involve minimal grading of the land.
Every site provides access for vehicles, which requires roads, or “access aisles,” to be constructed. These roads are sometimes improved with gravel, but they do not require application of concrete or asphalt. Many sites only use gravel close to the entry to the public Right of Way, as required by NCDOT regulation, with the rest of the access aisles as simply compacted native soil. Some developers use reusable wooden logging mats to provide temporary stabilization during construction to avoid the need for the addition of gravel. A best practice when building a gravel access aisle is to strip the organic topsoil, place a geotextile fabric under the aggregate and redistribute the topsoil on site to assist in soil stabilization. This will provide stability for the aggregate, allow for more efficient removal of the gravel at the end of the project’s life cycle by providing separation between aggregate and subgrade, while preserving the valuable topsoil on site for future agricultural use. Well-drafted leases will specify allowable construction techniques and locations of roads and other infrastructure. The NC Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) requires soil erosion and sedimentation control plans and permits and inspects implemented measures on the site until vegetative groundcover is established.
- ^ Brent Niemann, Strata Solar, personal communication, June 20, 2017.