Access to Light

Most strains of algae require light to grow. In the natural environment, algae, like most plants, utilize the energy in the sun’s rays to produce energy and grow new plant matter (biomass). Large natural sources of algae are found in just the top half inch of the sun-penetrated surface of bogs, marshes, swamps and salt lakes. More algae would, presumably, grow naturally in these environments if sunlight further penetrated the surface. 

One of the most important factors to maximizing the growth of algae, and thus the yield of an algae biofuels project, is providing satisfactory light. Maximizing the amount of algae mass exposed to light and optimizing light penetration on multiple growth levels may be the key to dependable, high algae yields. To accomplish this, some algae production facilities use artificial light sources like a 
photo bioreactor. Algae growth can certainly be improved by using artificial lighting, however, due to the energy losses inherent in generating electricity to create the artificial light, it is often not economical, except where the value of the final product is very high (as it is for some commercial algae projects where artificial light is used). By giving algae the light it needs inside a growth tank, all of the time, a photo bioreactor may be able to grow algae quickly and cost-effectively.

The developer of the algae biofuels project relying on natural sunlight will need to ensure that the facility has access to sunlight for growing algae. The developer may want to consider entering into solar easement agreement with adjoining property owners. By entering a solar easement agreement, a developer aims to protect against an adjoining property owner erecting or permitting something on its property that could potentially interfere or obstruct the sunlight from the developer’s algae biofuels project. Like any other property right, a solar easement agreement must be documented in writing and recorded in accordance with local requirements.

To be enforceable, an agreement creating a solar easement must also contain any state-specific requirements.  A state’s focus may be affected by weather, terrain, or the character of the area.  Some states and/or local governing bodies can be height- or design-sensitive (California, Colorado) or locale-sensitive (Hawaii), or may focus on visibility and placement (North Carolina), orientation (Wisconsin), zoning (Rhode Island), or setback issues (Oregon).

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