Clemson study spotlights state’s solar capabilities


The outlook for South Carolina’s solar energy capability is bright, according to a new study.

Clemson University industrial engineering major Amanda Farthing and a team from its Center for Geospatial Technologies recently unveiled the study.

It found the state has more than enough suitable land to generate large amounts of solar energy that would be needed to meet goals calling for all energy to come from renewable sources.

“The big takeaway is that solar presents a great opportunity in South Carolina and that it can be developed in a way that considers both environmental and social preferences,” Farthing said in a statement.

Farthing worked on the study for two years as her undergraduate research project.

She and her team created maps showing properties across the state that are most suited for generating solar energy at utility scale, including land suitable for five-megawatt developments and lands for one-megawatt developments.

A team of researchers at Clemson created maps showing properties across the state that are most suited for generating solar energy at utility scale.

According to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), the current national average of homes powered by one megawatt of solar energy is 164.

Clemson said the research could help South Carolina grow its generating capabilities while minimizing conflicts that could arise regarding land use.

SEIA said the state’s solar capacity has grown 303 percent during the past year.

The study said the highest concentration of suitable properties is a swath that runs from the North Carolina state line around Marlboro, Dillon and Horry counties to the Lake Marion area.

“From this initial study, we’ve seen there are plenty of suitable land areas for the development of solar energy,” said Michael Carbajales-Dale, an assistant professor of environmental engineering and earth sciences at Clemson, who co-authored the study, in a statement. “Regardless of policy, it’s very physically feasible.”

The study was published by the journal BioPhysical Economics and Resource Quality.

Farthing said the model developed for the study could be applied to analysis in other states.

The Clemson team ranked South Carolina properties on a scale from zero to 100, with the higher numbers more suitable for development.

Farthing and her team found that almost 1,256 square miles, or 4.2 percent of the state’s land area had a suitability value of at least 70 for five-megawatt developments.

For one-megawatt developments, the amount of land that had suitability value of at least 70 was 2,340 square miles, which is slightly smaller than the size of Delaware and would provide enough space to install 69.6 gigawatts of solar capacity, according to the study.

The state’s total capacity, if reached, would be enough to power more than 7 million homes. It exceeds the 6.7 gigawatts that a separate Stanford University study said the state needs to generate by 2050 in order to convert 100 percent of its energy infrastructure to wind, water and solar.

In the study, researchers said properties had to be 44.5 acres for five-megawatt developments and about 8.9 acres for one-megawatt installations.

The team eliminated unsuitable lands, including urban areas, airports, national forests, parks, national wildlife refuges, wilderness areas and protected marine environments.

The study said the best place to install the “photovoltaic” panels that soak up the sun’s rays are in flat areas.

Pee Dee and inland areas of the Lowcountry were the best places in the state for utlity-scale solar generation. The study also identified a diagonal swath running from the southern Upstate and northern Midlands at the Georgia border northeast to the North Carolina border near Spartanburg, Cherokee and York counties.

The least suitable land was along the coast.

“Wetlands have a lot of environmental benefits, and the wet ground is not a good place to install photovoltaic panels,” Farthing said.

Other co-authors on the study Scott Mason, the Fluor Endowed Chair in Supply Chain Optimization and Logistics; Patricia Carbajales-Dale, co-director of Clemson’s Center for Geospatial Technologies; and Palak Matta, the center’s GIS manager.

The title of the paper is, “Utility-Scale Solar PV in South Carolina: Analysis of Suitable Lands and Geographical Potential.”

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