Illuminate Home
Chalkboard with several technical drawings, graphs and flowcharts. Brightly lit lightbulb hanging in front of the chalkboard.

Planning a renewable energy project: an engineer’s perspective

Have you ever wondered what goes into the planning of renewable energy projects? From proposal to ribbon-cutting, engineers plan renewable projects with customers, cost, efficiency and the environment in mind. 

Engineer’s Week 2023 “recognizes how engineers play a vital role in innovating solutions to global challenges that impact future generations.” At Alliant Energy, we celebrate the hard work of our engineers and all their efforts to create the future of renewable energy and build a healthy, sustainable environment. 

“I definitely connect with this year’s Engineers Week theme of Creating the Future,” said Steve Greidanus, Manager of Generation Engineering for Alliant Energy. “When our teams design renewable energy projects, we focus on environmental impact, cost and reliability to create a sustainable future in clean energy for our customers." 

Finding the right spot  

Choosing land for a renewables project is one of the first decisions engineers make during the planning process. Some areas or “parcels” of land are better suited to certain types of renewable projects than others. When reviewing parcels of land, engineers look at things like: 

  • Flood zoning and storm water planning 
  • Land topography: for example, hills, valleys, trees, etc. 
  • Archaeological assessments and historical impacts, such as whether the parcel falls within Tribal land 
  • Soil makeup and bedrock depth  
  • How easy or difficult it would be to connect the resource to our grid 
  • Access to communications networks such as fiber optic internet 
  • Water runoff 
  • Current land use and how developed land could be used differently 

Engineers maximize value by designing projects that match parcels of land with a variety of renewable energy sources like wind, solar, hydropower, electrification or battery storage.  

Minimizing environmental impact 

Once the right parcel of land is identified, the project team works with environmental engineers and consultants to conduct an environmental impact assessment. The goal is to help identify any potential environmental concerns such as species migratory routes, threatened species in the area, the impact on local wildlife, historical uses of the land, the presence of wetlands or other protected environments and more.  

Data from the assessment helps engineers make decisions such as where to place solar racking within a particular parcel, what types of racking structures are most suitable for the soil type and land topography, where any grading should be performed or avoided and which flowers, grasses or crops to plant at the site so pollinators and other species can thrive.  

Selecting the right flowers, grasses or crops requires knowledge about native species and agriculture. Alliant Energy is currently collaborating with Iowa State University and the University of Wisconsin–Madison to construct solar farms near both campuses for university research about how agriculture and engineering solar farms work together to create a healthy environment and build strong communities. 

Cost and safety 

Our engineers also collaborate with our Standards Team to select materials and specify components that take factors such as quality, cost and availability into account.  Our Sourcing team then looks to procure these components from reputable vendors.   

Purchasing materials from reputable suppliers also means that safety is built in and the materials comply with codes and regulatory standards. The result: our renewable projects are safe for our engineers, field workers, customers and the environment.  

Grant Barton is a Communications Partner with a passion for sustainability and eco-friendly city planning. He has a diverse background in engineering, politics and international communications and hopes to apply this experience when writing and breaking down complex topics related to Alliant Energy's Clean Energy Future plans.

Recent Stories