In the Netherlands looking for space for solar energy

published on Wednesday 27 July 2022 at 10:19 a.m.

At Piet Alber’s farm, everyone is happy: the raspberries now grow protected by a huge field of solar panels, and in return the energy company BayWa supplies power to more than 1,200 homes.

In the Netherlands and in Europe in general, this is the main topic for the solar industry, which is promised to be massively widespread in light of the states’ energy and climate goals: where do you find the space to set up and accept?

“We look everywhere”, replies Maarten De Groot, from the GroenLeven group, a subsidiary of the German BayWa, which relies on these spaces where the installations can “dual use”.

Thus, like a greenhouse, Piet Albers welcomes roofs made of solar panels, placed three meters above the ground above his precious raspberries.

“I saw the summers getting longer and the fruits of the forest burning in the greenhouses. They had to be protected,” he says.

The farmer, who in monoculture produces more than 200 tons of raspberries per year, does not reap interest from the energy company, but has had other benefits for three years: more constant temperatures, 25% less watering, protection against hail, greenhouse plastic saved…

A wide smile crosses his weathered face as this week 37°C is reported in his region: “In the greenhouse I should have thrown out 10 to 20% of the fruit”.

BayWa, on the other hand, has additional costs to bear: non-standard and less productive panels (semi-transparent to filter the light), more complicated maintenance, enumerates Maarten De Groot, for whom “the emergence of + dual-use + projects will depend on state support”.

An “agrivoltaic” project can result in a loss of 15-25% of income compared to solar parks on the ground. The latter, cheaper and more productive, will therefore continue to be necessary, the sector believes.

– For each project, its local residents –

But not all new solutions are necessarily very expensive, emphasizes BayWa. 50 km from Mr. Albers, the company has installed a floating park on a quarry lake.

This 30m deep cavity, formed by years of sand mining and refilling, now houses 17 hectares of solar panels as far as the eye can see, over half of its area.

“The rafts are a proven technology, not high-tech at all”, assembled as pontoons, shows Hugo Parant, project manager at BayWa re France. The investment is greater than on land, but the quick construction, the simple maintenance and the water, by avoiding any overheating, increase the yield.

Also on the water, a dozen transformers send 20,000 volts to the shore station via a huge cable, destined for about 10,000 homes.

Here, the energy company pays rent to the quarry, but often sells carbon-free electricity at a stable price to the industrialist.

This Uivermeertjes park is, with 29.8 megawatts (MW), according to BayWa, the second largest floating park in Europe. The first is also in the Netherlands.

The idea doesn’t just make people happy, like William Peters, who fishes for carp and pouts there. “The fish are getting bigger, but will it continue?”, he asks the industrialist’s representatives, who try to reassure him: A study of another body of water showed a slight difference in temperature.

“We are a small country. As soon as you have a project, you find a local resident, you really have to think about sharing the space”, notes Maarten De Groot.

In Europe’s most densely populated country, the spread of renewable energy with wind power began in the less populated north. This is currently limited by the capacity of the electricity grid, while the southern part is highly urbanized and the roofs are already very equipped.

But the challenge is there: the Netherlands, which is aiming for CO2 neutrality by 2050, derives less than 12% of its final energy consumption from renewable energy.

Globally, the situation is the same: 2021 has seen an unprecedented spread of solar and wind capacity, but four times more would need to be installed each year to keep global warming to 1.5°C, the International Energy Agency stresses.

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