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Farming the sun

Graduation post by Fan Yang

The involvement of the landscape architect is needed in the process of renewable energy transition in order to achieve a sustainable development. The spatial arrangement of these new technologies is a relatively new subject to landscape architects. It is important to study how to make new technologies fit into the landscapes by designing. Solar Photovoltaic is one of these new technologies. In this thesis, the design strategy and principles of fitting solar parks into the landscape are studied.

Context In the era of renewable energy, the involvement of landscape architects becomes more and more important in the process of renewable energy transition. It is a new mission for landscape architects to make this transition sustainable. In this thesis, the mission is focused on solar parks. The implementation of solar parks will create many negative environmental impacts. By design, landscape architects can help reduce some of these impacts, especially the landscape impacts. Solar PV is a booming industry with an average yearly growth of 14% worldwide (Krauter, 2006). Due to its contribution to energy supply, economic, climate change and environment, the province of Noord- Brabant is willing to develop solar parks (large solar PV projects) in the province. The colour, material and the shape of solar panels make them easily contradict with the surrounding landscapes. Their occupation of large pieces of land may cause conflicts with other land uses. Dutch philosopher Smits describes that there are four different attitudes towards new technologies concluded from the research by Tuan (1989) and Thayer (1989)(Sijmons and Dorst, 2013). They are: exorcism, adaptation, assimilation and embrace. These are the four attitudes to the mediation of new techniques and the re-entering of people. My basic attitude towards the design of solar parks is adaptation. Where are the suitable locations to place the solar parks in the province? How to make the solar parks fit into the landscape? These questions are relevant in my research. As a landscape architect, I investigate the possibility to solve these questions by using design strategies(see figure 1). Therefore, the research question is: what design strategies can help fitting new solar parks into the landscape of Noord-Brabant?

Figure 1 – Research process

What and how? The sustainable development of a solar park requires concerns in technology, economy, environment and socio-cultural aspects. In order to find out how to make a solar park fit into the landscape, I start with the environmental impacts of solar parks. ‘When external effects influence the environment, they are known as environmental impacts’. (Turner, 1998) Environmental impacts include landscape impacts which mean ‘changes to the fabric, character and quality of the landscape as a result of development’. Through literature study, I concluded the mitigation methods for environmental impacts of solar parks. From which, design principles of solar parks were generated. Adapted from the article of Rodriguez (Rodriguez, 2013), design principles were arranged into six steps(see figure 2), namely: 1) location 2) density 3) overall design of the solar park 4) the design of the components 5) inner components organization 6) maintenance. Within each step, specific principles are described. For example in step 3, one principle is listed as construction materials should be selected to reflect local landscape context.

Figure 2 – Step 1: Location, Step 2: Density, Step 3: Overall, Step 4: Components, Step 5: Organisation, Step 6: Maintenance

Where? In order to find out the suitable locations for new solar parks in the province, I used literature to generate the siting criteria of the solar parks. Based on the criteria, the ‘overlay method’ from Ian Mcharg (1969) was used to map out the area of different values in the categories of: geological, archaeological and ecological, solar radiation and built area with infrastructures(see figure 3). After overlapping these maps, the result shows the more suitable places for developing a solar park according to the value of the land. After screening, three landscape types with largest suitable area and high percentage of suitability were chosen to test the design strategy. These three landscapes are: Zeekleipolder (see clay polder); Langstraatontginning (peel reclamation); Jonge zandontginning (young sand reclamation). The development of these three landscapes is line with solar parks. By doing a landscape analysis of the three landscape types, three locations were narrowed down for solar park designs.

Figure 3 – Overlay map (suitability map & landscape type)

Sustainable solar parks For each landscape type, one site was chosen to make a solar park design with the area of 10 hectares. Under the attitude of ‘adaptation’ towards a solar park, which means to adapt the solar park and make it more acceptable(Sijmons and Dorst, 2013). I made different design options to make the solar park adapted to the landscape. For example in the third landscape type Jonge zandontginning. This type of landscape is characterized by its small mosaic pattern, meadows, ponds and ditches. This is an area of young reclamation landscapes. The subsoil of this area is clay. The vegetation of this type is rich. The challenge of development of this landscape type is to strengthen the green mosaic landscape and natural feelings. The location for solar park in this landscape type is the most irregular site among all three sites which is also very representative in this young sand reclamation landscape. There are forests, streams, agricultural field, bushes, trees and habitats for birds around the area. The south part of this place is the natural protected area. In this plan, I use the line of ditch (on the south side) as my new edge of the field. In this way, the line of fence would not be so straight. It is good for the natural feeling on the site. Since I choose a wooden fence to create natural feelings, the height of it must be at least 1.8 meters for safety issues. With a fence in the ditch, the height of the fence is lower (1.3-1.5m). The combination with ditch will improve the safety of the solar panels.

Figure 4 – Cross section

Figure 5 – Perspective

Conclusion In general Landscape characteristics are the foundations to all the designs of solar parks. The attitude towards the design of a solar park largely affects the results. Developers should not hide solar panels in all the landscapes. Visibility of a solar park can be informative which can contribute to the acceptance of solar panels in the landscape. The use of the six-step strategy needs to be flexible according to the landscape characteristics in order to prevent standardization of the design.

McHarg. I.L. (1969) Design with nature. New York: Natural History Krauter, S. (2006) Solar electric power generation technology, Berlin: Springer

Rodriguez M. M. and Rosello M. J. P. (2013) How can photovoltaic power plants be inserted into the landscape? Proposals for a procedure of landscape integration Quaderni di Careggi 04 54-56

Sijmons, D. and Dorst, M. (2013) ‘Strong feelings: emotional landscape of wind turbines’, in Stremke, S. and Dobbelsteen, A. (eds) Sustainable energy landscapes: designing, planning, and development, USA: CRC Press States of America: Sage publications.

Thayer, R.L., (1989) The Experience of Sustainable Landscapes, landscape journal, 8.2 :101-110

Tuan, Y., (1989) Cultural Pluralism and Technology, Geographical Review, 79.3: 269-279

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