Greenfield development refers to any kind of construction or development in a previously undeveloped area. The use of untouched land for solar development is a topic that often sparks healthy debate in many communities. However, embracing solar greenfield development offers many benefits that extend beyond energy production for multiple stakeholders, from landowners and developers to the broader community, cities, and countries. While Nelnet Renewable Energy also recognizes the value of brownfield development – the redevelopment of existing sites for new solar project installations – we believe that greenfield development offers unique advantages that may be overlooked as various stakeholders within a community try to protect against any kind of development.
The amount of land utilized for solar energy projects in the U.S. has been steadily increasing. According to the Solar Futures Study, ground-based solar could need about 0.5% of the land in the contiguous U.S. to meet the maximum land use required for solar in 2050.1
While this study and others show that there’s more than enough developed and undeveloped land needed to build solar installations needed to meet solar demand over the coming decades, there may be a much broader question. Why would landowners, developers, communities, and countries want to miss out on the opportunities greenfield solar development offers by not even contemplating the benefits it can offer them?
Since the availability of land for development is a topic of interest to so many different stakeholders, it’s important to understand the challenges each of these groups face, as well as the opportunities greenfield development can provide to them.
Benefits to Landowners
In today’s ever-evolving real estate market, landowners are confronted with an array of challenges. The complexities of land use regulations, economic uncertainties, and shifting market dynamics make it increasingly difficult for landowners to realize the full potential of their properties. Let’s explore how greenfield development – and solar energy in particular – can provide landowners with a sustainable and economically advantageous way to navigate today’s market challenges.
Five key benefits of greenfield development for landowners:
- Steady Income Stream. Landowners can earn consistent lease revenues over the contract period, offering financial stability over a long period of time. This can be particularly useful in alleviating stress for landowners who experience seasonal or annual fluctuations in other income sources.
- Land Value Appreciation. As lands are developed and infrastructure is established, the value of the land can appreciate. With the infrastructure established by greenfield development, a landowner’s site becomes eligible for additional development purposes in the future.
- Land Conservation. Solar installations, in many cases, lead to limited land disruption compared to other forms of development. If a landowner needs to develop their land for financial reasons, greenfield development is the least disruptive to the landscape for a landowner who is concerned about environmental stewardship.
- Dual Land Use Opportunities. Depending on the design of your project, portions of the land can be used for agriculture or grazing beneath the solar arrays, a practice known as agrivoltaics. There are over 2.8 GW of agrivoltaic sites in the U.S., the majority of which involve sheep grazing or pollinator habitats. Several states are encouraging the construction of agrivoltaics through incentives or research.2
- Minimal Operational Hassles. Once the project is commissioned, landowners face minimal disturbances as solar projects require low-intensity, periodic maintenance. Landowners who are busy with tending to other crops or business pursuits are required to do and spend very little to generate additional cash benefits from their land with greenfield development.
Benefits to Developers
Developers face a myriad of challenges that can often hinder progress and innovation. Complex permitting processes, land acquisition difficulties, and the need to adhere to strict environmental regulations are just a few of the hurdles that developers encounter on their path to sustainable, green initiatives. Greenfield development circumvents many of these challenges while opening the door to a brighter, more sustainable future. Greenfield projects – and particularly solar projects – allow developers to create efficient and environmentally friendly solutions with fewer constraints.
Five key benefits of greenfield development for developers:
- Sustainable Revenue Model. This is one of the most significant advantages of greenfield solar development. Developers can secure long-term Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) with utility companies or commercial entities, ensuring a predictable revenue stream for as much as two to three decades into the future. This financial stability provides peace of mind – and attracts investors and lenders, as they see the potential for a consistent return on their investments.
- Positive Brand Image. In today’s environmentally conscious world, companies are increasingly focused on their sustainability and corporate responsibility efforts. By visibly contributing to reducing carbon emissions and advancing sustainable energy solutions, developers of greenfield solar projects can enhance their reputation and appeal to environmentally conscious consumers and partners.
- Tax Incentives & Subsidies. Many green energy initiatives, including solar projects, qualify for attractive local, state, and federal tax incentives, subsidies, or grants. These incentives can significantly offset development and operational costs, making greenfield solar projects financially more attractive. Developers who take advantage of these incentives can improve their project’s overall return on investment while contributing to broader sustainability goals.
- Flexibility & Scalability. Greenfield solar projects are highly flexible and scalable, accommodating the availability of land and energy requirements. Developers have the freedom to adjust the size and scope of their projects, whether they want to start with a modest installation and expand as demand grows or maximize land utilization for larger projects. This scalability allows developers to adapt to market conditions and energy demands while maintaining operational efficiency.
- Decreasing Costs. Advancements in solar technology and economies of scale have led to a consistent decrease in the cost of solar panel production and installation, positively impacting the return on investment for greenfield solar developments. Developers can leverage these cost reductions to optimize their projects, achieving more competitive pricing and improving financial viability. As solar technology continues to evolve, developers from increased cost effectiveness and efficiency of their projects.
Benefits to Cities and Communities
In today’s complex and rapidly changing world, cities and communities grapple with a host of challenges like economic disparities, environmental concerns, and the pressing need for energy solutions that balance growth with sustainability. Greenfield development using solar energy offers a path toward cleaner, more self-reliant communities, but it also serves as a catalyst for positive change on multiple fronts.
Five key benefits of greenfield development for cities and communities:
- Job Creation. Greenfield solar projects are a powerful source of local employment opportunities. The construction phase requires a significant number of skilled and unskilled workers, stimulating the local job market. Plus, the ongoing operation and maintenance of solar facilities create stable, long-term employment opportunities for local residents, reducing unemployment and fostering economic growth that improves local quality of life.
- Local Infrastructure Development. Greenfield solar projects often require upgrading or enhancing local infrastructure, such as roads, water supply, and electrical grid connections. These investments in infrastructure can benefit the entire community, making transportation more efficient and enhancing the overall quality of life. Improved infrastructure can also increase property values and attract further investment to the area, contributing to the city’s development and modernization.
- Educational Opportunities. Greenfield solar projects offer an excellent opportunity for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education, allowing students to learn about renewable energy, environmental sustainability, and the practical applications of science. Field trips and educational programs centered around solar farms can inspire the next generation to pursue careers in clean energy and environmental sciences, fostering a more informed and engaged community.
- Clean Energy. The deployment of solar projects in communities contributes to a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and pollutants, helping to mitigate air pollution and combat climate change. Cleaner air and a reduction in harmful emissions lead to improved public health and environmental quality, resulting in a better overall quality of life for local residents.
- Energy Security. Locally produced solar power reduces a community’s dependency on imported fuels or distant power sources and increases its energy security. Cities that harness solar energy are better equipped to withstand external energy shocks and disruptions, continue to operate essential services, and maintain a stable energy supply during emergencies. This enhanced resilience is a vital component of modern urban planning and sustainability.
Benefits to Countries
In an era marked by unprecedented urbanization and growing energy demands, countries around the world face a complex web of challenges ranging from the pressing need for sustainable energy sources to combatting climate change, addressing economic disparities, and enhancing energy security. Greenfield solar development offers several benefits and plays an important role in fostering economic growth, environmental stewardship, and energy self-sufficiency.
Five key benefits of greenfield development for countries:
- Climate Change Mitigation. As countries grapple with the urgent need to address climate change, greenfield solar development emerges as a vital tool in mitigating its effects. Solar energy’s clean and renewable nature significantly reduces carbon footprints, aiding nations in achieving their goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. By transitioning to solar, countries contribute to a more sustainable and environmentally responsible future, aligning with international efforts to combat climate change.
- Energy Diversification. Over-reliance on a single energy source can pose significant risks to a country’s energy security. Greenfield solar development offers a way to diversify the energy mix, reducing the dependence on fossil fuels or imported energy sources. Solar power can be harnessed alongside existing energy infrastructure, enhancing a nation’s resilience and adaptability to changing energy needs and market dynamics.
- Economic Growth. Investment in solar infrastructure stimulates economic growth by creating jobs and increasing energy capacities. Solar projects require a broad spectrum of skilled labor, from engineers and technicians to construction workers and maintenance staff, with job creation enhancing local and national economies. Additionally, an expanded solar capacity boosts a country’s energy production and can lead to energy export opportunities, further fueling economic growth.
- Resilience. Distributed solar power sources can enhance a country’s grid resilience, particularly during natural disasters or system failures. Solar arrays, when properly integrated into the grid, can serve as decentralized energy sources, reducing the risk of widespread power outages. This resilience is crucial for maintaining essential services during emergencies and ensuring the continuity of critical infrastructure.
- Attracting Further Investment. Pioneering solar projects can position a country as a renewable energy hub, attracting further green investment to the region. By demonstrating a commitment to sustainable energy solutions, countries can appeal to investors – both domestic and foreign – interested in supporting renewable energy initiatives. This, in turn, leads to more funding and opportunities for expansion, research, and development in the renewable energy sector.
|Steady income stream||Sustainable revenue model||Job creation||Climate change mitigation|
|Land value appreciation||Positive brand image||Local infrastructure development||Energy diversification|
|Land conservation||Tax incentives & subsidies||Educational opportunities||Economic growth|
|Dual land use opportunities||Flexibility & scalability||Clean energy||Resilience|
|Minimal operational hassles||Decreasing costs||Energy security||Attracting further investment|
Why Nelnet Renewable Energy as a partner?
Solar greenfield development represents more than just an energy production venture; it embodies a vision for a sustainable, economically robust, and environmentally conscientious future. By recognizing and leveraging these multifaceted benefits, stakeholders at all levels can drive toward a brighter, greener tomorrow. Partnering with Nelnet Renewable Energy, you’ll gain the advantage of broad but deep expertise that helps landowners, developers, utilities, and municipalities enjoy the financial and environmental benefits of converting to solar.
A Nelnet Renewable Energy partnership includes:
- Conscientious Site Assessments. Each chosen location meets our high standards for optimal energy generation because we meticulously analyze topography, soil quality, and solar irradiance. Our expert team navigates regulatory and zoning restrictions, as well as environmental considerations, to unlock each site’s full potential.
- Innovative Approach and Environmental Responsibility. Using modern technology and strategic partnerships, our creative solutions build a harmonious alliance between clean energy and nature by carefully and seamlessly integrating solar infrastructure into the natural environment, underscoring our commitment to environmental responsibility.
- In-House Expertise. From site selection and feasibility studies to development, design, construction, and operation, we offer seamless execution by our experts. Our in-house engineering, procurement, and construction firm brings decades of expertise and all the resources needed to manage every aspect of your project from start to finish.
- Financial, Investment, and Tax Equity Support. Our strong balance sheet and bankability provide the equity needed to get projects built. Plus, financial relationships from our solar tax equity and asset management experience offer us the ability to obtain long-term financing for the projects we build, own, and operate.
- Community Engagement. We know empowering local communities and fostering mutually beneficial relationships is essential for true sustainability. From transparent communication to addressing concerns with empathy and respect, community engagement is at the core of our process to ensure our projects enrich the lives of those around them.
- Personalized Approach. We enjoy the fact that each project and situation is different. We’re able to leverage our expertise and tailor our approach to the unique challenges and specific requirements of your solar project, helping us meet your project’s needs and deliver optimal value to all involved.
Greenfield development can help us drive the transition to a cleaner, more resilient planet for future generations. It’s essential to choose a collaborative partner who can help you achieve your financial goals while sharing your commitment to environmental sustainability.