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Why should we be developing solar farms?

In order to combat climate change and rising CO2 emissions, and also to ensure that the increasing demand for energy is met, sustainable energy generation is essential. The Dutch government wants around 27% of all energy to be generated sustainably by 2030, which will result in a CO2 reduction of 49%. In the year 2050 almost all energy must be generated sustainably. In our country, renewable energy is primarily focused on wind and solar energy. For various reasons, geothermal energy, nuclear energy and hydropower currently play a modest role in our country.

To achieve the 2030 targets, the Netherlands must generate 35TWh of sustainable energy on land. The share of wind energy in that year will be around 11GW; mainly generated by large offshore wind farms. The target for solar energy is approximately 23GW. Considering that the total capacity for solar panels on roofs is approximately 7TWh, it is clear that solar farms will play an important role in achieving the objectives.

Where can solar farms be installed?

In principle, solar farms can be built anywhere, but in order to develop and design the solar farms efficiently and cost-effectively, we need land area of at least a few hectares, and a convenient, close connection point to the electricity network.

There is much debate about the installation of solar farms in agricultural areas, because agricultural land is scarce. However, solar farms coexist well with agricultural businesses, because it allows for dual usage, for example by grazing sheep or poultry between the panels. The landowner also receives a steady income from a solar farm, which allows him to secure the continuity of his business. An important advantage of solar farms is that they can be completely removed after the duration of their lifecycle (20 to 40 years) and the land can then resume its agricultural purpose.

In addition to agricultural land, explicit attention is also paid to meadows that are less favorably located, and to brownfield land, such as unused parts of business parks or strips of land next to roads and railways. Floating solar installations also offer a good alternative.

How does a solar farm work?

A solar farm consists of rows of solar panels, which are mounted on frames. The racks are set at some distance from each other to prevent shading and maximise solar energy generation. The solar panels convert sunlight into electrical energy (direct current), which then travels to the inverters via underground cables. The inverters covert the direct current into alternating current, so that the current is suitable for the electricity network. From the inverters the current goes to the transformer, where the current gets the correct voltage for the electricity network. Finally, the electricity goes to the substation, the point where the solar farm is connected to the electricity network. An underground high-voltage cable runs from the substation to the nearest high-voltage station.

What does a solar farm look like?

In addition to the rows of solar panels, the inverter cabins and the transformer house, there are a number of smaller cabins on site, housing the equipment that monitors the park and providing storage for spare parts and materials for installation and maintenance.

Around the solar farm is a fence that is no more than 2 meters high, alongside CCTV cameras for security and surveillance. These are aimed at the solar farm and the fence, and are specifically located to preserve the privacy of neighbours. Often trees and shrubs are planted outside the fencing so that the solar farm blends into the landscape better.

What types of solar installations are there?

Solar energy is an efficient technology with a wide range of applications. The three most common types of solar installations are:

Solar on land

Ground-mounted solar farms are an excellent solution for integrating the generation of sustainable energy into the landscape. Ground-mounted solar farms are temporary installations that can easily be removed after the lifecycle, with no lasting impact on the land.

Rooftop solar

Most people who talk about solar energy think of solar panels mounted on roofs. These installations are an ideal solution for homeowners and companies who want to generate their energy sustainably, but unfortunately, not all roofs are suitable for mounting solar panels due to their surface, location or construction.

Floating solar

Floating solar farms are an innovative solution that make it possible to install solar parks on water surfaces. They are a great solution for wetlands and reservoirs.

What are solar panels made of?

The main component of a solar panel is silicon, which makes up both the photovoltaic cells and anti-reflective glass.To make the cells, electricity is used to melt sand, whichis then purified, distilled and formed into waffles. Finally, it has an anti-reflection coating of silicon nitride to maximise the absorption of light. The coating is blue because dark colors absorb more sunlight, making the panels more efficient, and although a black coating would absorb more sunlight, they also heat up much faster and solar works best at lower temperatures. The blue coating absorbs the light well, but the surface remains cooler, so the panels generate electricity more efficiently.

The horizontal and vertical lines on the solar panels are printed silver conductors. They conduct the generated electricity from the silicon cells to the cabling.

The solar panels are mounted on aluminum frames, which have a matte non-reflective finish. The frames have a galvanized screwed foundation, making them easy to assemble and dismantle. As a result, the soil is quickly restored after the solar farm has been dismantled.

Because solar panels are made of silicon, silver and aluminum, they are fully recyclable and do not cause any contamination. There are also no emissions in the production of electricity.

How are solar farms developed and built?

If a landowner (companies, governments or individuals) is interested in installing a solar farm on a piece of land, the experts at Lightsource BP do extensive research to determine whether the location is suitable. We don’t just look at the location and environment of the site, but also technical aspects and zoning plans. If the assessment is positive, contact is sought with the local government to apply for the necessary permits. Independent experts are engaged who, among other things, conduct soil and environmental studies. In parallel with this, contact is made with local residents to give them the opportunity to give their opinion and ideas about the solar farm. Lightsource BP organises information evenings where an explanation is given of the plans and where local residents can give their opinion.

On the basis of all that information, a complete and detailed plan for the construction, layout and integration of the landscape into the area is submitted for the Environmental Permit. The construction of the solar farm starts after the permit has been granted.

The construction takes a few months and consists of several phases: if necessary, groundwork is first carried out, after which the supporting posts for the frames are drilled into the ground and the cables are laid in trenches under the ground. After installing the solar panels, the electrical infrastructure (inverters, transformers and substation) is installed and installed, and the fencing and CCTV cameras are installed. Finally, all traces of construction are removed and the plants are installed.

Do solar farms cause disruption?

There can be some noise during the construction of the solar farm, from building activiies and material transport. To minimise the inconvenience, we draw up a traffic and construction plan for each site. Once operational, there should be no major noise distruption from the solar farm – the inverters and the transformer can emit a soft buzz, but this is rarely audible from outside the fence. Because the solar panel frames have a maximum height of 1.5 meters, and the perimeters of the solar farm is planted with screening vegetation, solar installations are often barely visible from a distance. Solar panels are specifically designed to absorb sunlight, not reflect it, so there is very minimal glint or glare off the panels. All equipment and electrical components in our solar farms are EMC tested, so there’s very little chance that solar farms will cause electromagnetic interference or trigger malfunctions in nearby devices.

What impact do solar farms have on their surroundings?

There are minimal negative imapcts of solar on the local environment, no noise or disruption, and as it stands there has been  no evidence of a fall in land or house prices in the area due to solar farm construction. Solar farms actually have many positive consequences for the biodiversity in the area. Part of the terrain is in fact sown and planted with species that have a major attraction for insects and birds, and because up to 60% of the surface area in Lightsource BP’s solar farms is covered with solar panels, small and poultry can also be kept in the grassy areas between the panels.

What happens after the solar farm has been built?

Once the solar farm has been built, there’s limited activity involved in the running of the site. We carry out inspections and maintenance work on a regular basis, which includes technical maintenance work, cleaning the panels using tractors with a special brush installation or mowing the grass. If the site is home to sheep, poultry or bees, there will sometimes be extra visits to the site.

What happens to the land when a solar farm is dismantled?

Once the solar farm has reached the end of its lifespan, the site is restored to its original state. All structures, cabling, frames, solar panels and fencing are removed, and complete control of the land returns to the landowner.