Utility-scale vs. Distributed Solar Power

Nevada Solar FAQs
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residential vs. utility-scale solar

While many agree that solar is vital to the renewable energy mix, some feel solar should become a central addition to the mix of utility-generated power. Others think it’s better if the majority of solar additions come in the form of distributed solar arrays on the roofs of homes and businesses. Each is a valid point. However, before delving into these rationales, let’s delve into what each solar application entails.

Large Scale Solar Power Systems in Nevada

Large-scale solar power systems can range anywhere from over two Megawatts (MW) to over 25 MW. While the minimum size requirements differ, all of these arrays cover vast amounts of land. 

Large-scale solar requires acres of land for the solar farm installation. Since these systems need to connect to the grid to power homes and businesses, they typically aren’t installed too far from the grid’s most central infrastructure.

Typically large-scale solar power systems either use photovoltaics or concentrated solar power (CSP). Photovoltaic solar uses solar panels to generate electricity. CSP uses mirrors and salt to generate heat, which transduces into usable electricity.

Nevada’s Utility-scale Solar

Nevada has several utility-scale solar plants. The newest additions include the 500-MW Yellow Pine Solar Project and the 690-MW Gemini solar project

What Makes Residential Solar Different?

Residential solar installations only use enough solar panels to produce the needed electricity for one home. These installations typically go on rooftops. However, some Reno homeowners with ample property opt-in for ground-mount installations. 

While most solar installations use photovoltaics, some use passive solar techniques instead or in addition to photovoltaics. One passive solar technique includes using passive solar design in the construction of the home, so it will naturally cool and heat itself. Others install solar water heaters or active solar heating systems such as radiant floor systems. 

While these other solar options can produce heat, they aren’t as good at cooling off a home. Photovoltaics solves this problem because the solar panels generate electricity, which powers everything in the house relying on that power source.

 Residential Solar Project Size in Nevada

Residential and utility-scale photovoltaic solar function similarly. However, the amount of space needed differs drastically. Nevadan homeowners can typically meet all their energy needs with space on their roof, but more densely populated areas like the Reno metropolitan area sometimes make ground mounts difficult. Utility-scale projects, however, require acres of land.

Who Generates the Electricity?

Who generates the electricity also differs between residential and utility-scale solar. In a residential system, the homeowner produces electricity. Excess solar either goes on the grid for others in the area to use, or the homeowner can store their solar-generated power for use at a later date with one of the main types of battery backup

Solar farms produce large quantities of solar power. NV Energy customers then pay extra to make sure that enough renewable energy goes onto the grid to cover their home’s energy needs.

Utility-scale Solar vs. Distributed Solar

Proponents of utility-scale solar argue that residential solar installations put an unfair financial strain on NV Energy’s non-solar customers. This strain comes from solar customers putting excess generated electricity on the grid at the retail rate, which they argue doesn’t cover the costs of transporting this electricity to other homes. 

Nevada homeowners install solar because they can transition away from fossil fuels without having to dish out more money. Instead, they pay the same as they would for fossil fuels for a couple of years and then after paying for the solar array, they only pay an NV Energy connection fee for the rest of the array’s life, in addition to a small solar bill and or energy bill. 

Those against utility-scale solar feel it isn’t fair that utilities charge customers an additional fee so the utility can add renewable energy like solar to the grid. The added cost doesn’t make sense to them because adding solar costs less to maintain and lasts for decades.

Behind the Meter vs. Front of the Meter

It comes down to whether we should add solar behind or in front of the meter. Front-of-the-meter solar refers to large-scale solar installations that utilities control, whereas residential solar, battery backup, and customer usage make up the activity behind the meter.  

We won’t try to sway you one way or the other, but it’s pretty clear which side of the argument is the one with which we agree. If you would like to look into adding residential solar to your Reno home, we can get you started with a free, customized, no-obligation solar savings quote.


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