Among the key factors to consider in the renewable energy development process is site assessment. A site assessment is necessary to determine if the site has the resources, such as wind, sun, or water, to produce energy. A site assessment also considers the terrain, environmental conditions, and the accessibility of the site. Site assessment helps to identify potential challenges that could impact the project’s performance, such as limited wind speeds or shading on solar panels.
To learn more about the site assessments, we spoke with Amshore Project Developer Andrew Jeffreys, who offered his unique insight into the process.
Q: Andrew, tell us more about renewable energy project site assessment.
Andrew: When we’re looking at sites for renewable energy, we first look at the resources that might be available because the “fuel” – sun or wind – comes from the environment. But the full site assessment includes more than just that as we need to determine if a location has enough wind or solar resources. Then we look at transmission lines that our clients sell their power into. From there, we’ve got several other restrictions that we go through, whether it’s airports, county ordinances, other competing projects, and we want to be good neighbors too. We start working down a funnel: we start with the bigger questions and then we work our way down to important, but more detailed, items like environmental and population concerns. There are quite a few boxes that we check off before we’re ready to say a site assessment is complete.
Q: What differences exist among wind, solar and battery site assessments?
Andrew: The biggest difference is size: the amount of land we need for a successful project. Specifically, we look at the area and the setbacks from other projects, environmental features and structures like airports and populated areas. Size is increased dramatically with wind compared to battery. The differences among wind, solar and battery are really on a spectrum—wind on the big end of the spectrum and battery on the smaller end. With wind, we need the largest land mass but also the largest buffer areas around the project. Whereas battery can be down with just an acre or two. We could have one small enough right in the middle of a city, for example. Solar sites between wind and battery as far as site requirements.
Q: How do developers perform site assessments? What is a negative-focused approach to site assessments?
Andrew: First, we get a clear idea of what we want the project to be in the end. During our ideation stage we think about if the project is going to be wind, solar or battery, or—increasingly—any combination of the three. Knowing the technology gives us an idea of the amount of land and transmission capacity needed. Next, we start to narrow down the possibilities where land and capacity meet. Then we go down the checklist of all the other things that need to be done and start looking for fatal flaws. It really becomes a “negative-focused” approach. We’re looking for the things that would kill the project, things that would keep the project from being able to move forward. Optimistically, we won’t find any, but the reality is they are more common than not. When we don’t find any fatal flaws, we move forward. Next, we’ll do a desktop review combining various technologies, information sources and our experience, and start mapping out our opportunities. We may also need to check out the site in-person. Ultimately, we’ll quickly find out how viable a project is through our site assessment process.
Q: Since Amshore was established over 20 years ago, how has the site assessment process changed?
Andrew: We have access to technology now that wasn’t available 20 years ago and it’s really made us more efficient and productive. Back in the day, developers like Amshore were driving around to find sites, and it was a very tedious process with many hours spent on the road. Now we can get a desktop review done in a relatively short time covering any state in the United States or countries in Europe or elsewhere. Throughout most of the world, we have this this information right here through software which speeds up the site assessment process dramatically. Now, Amshore can look at more areas at a much quicker pace using technology, then go on-site if needed to make confirmation and final analysis.
Q: How do landowners fit into the site assessment process?
Andrew: The role of the landowner can’t be overstated—it’s their land. They are a critical partner, and we must be cognizant that we’d be putting the project on their land, changing the way their land looks and the way they operate on their land. So, they become a key relationship we must nurture throughout the project. We want to avoid fatal flaws with landowners down the road, so a core tenant of our approach is solid landowner relations, open communication and good stewardship of their property. We’ve seen a spike in landowner interest in renewable energy over the last few years, so we created The Landowner’s Guide to Renewable Energy to help educate those who might just be starting to think about renewables.
Q: After site assessment, what’s the next step in the renewable energy development process?
Andrew: After a site assessment, the next step is project planning and strategic selection. Project planning considers the scope, schedule, and budget of the project. A project plan outlines the necessary resources, equipment, and personnel required for the project. Strategic selection considers the type of renewable energy technology that best suits the site, the local regulations, and the available incentives.