Wageningen Solar Research Programme
In order to meet the targets of the Energy Agreement, the Dutch government is putting a lot of emphasis on solar energy. The use of solar energy (electricity and heat) in the Netherlands increased by 37 percent from 2018 to 2019. This is reflected in a large increase in solar parks, particularly on agricultural land. These solar parks are usually aimed at maximising energy yields. Wageningen University & Research (WUR) also wants to add nature-inclusive and social impact.
Global society is faced with several major challenges: climate change, making energy sustainable, sufficient and healthy food production, bending biodiversity decline and water availability and quality. These challenges are connected: actions with respect to one particular challenge often can have effects on one or more of the other challenges, which in certain cases can lead to a slowdown or an acceleration of the process pursued.
In the Wageningen Solar Research Programme, we develop an integrated approach on the transformation process. Our research focus is on six related themes:
- Landscape and spatial quality
- Biodiversity and nature
- Participation and policy
- Meso and microclimate
- Soil quality
In all themes, we make use of the latest technological innovations. With the Solar Research Programme, we want to lay the scientific foundation for sustainable solar parks that are profitable for the economy, nature and society. WUR is working on this together with citizens, landowners, developers, energy and technology suppliers, consultancies, governments and civil society organisations.
The vision of the Solar Research Programme contains the following ingredients:
- A regional geographical approach.
- An integral approach with (1) coherence between food, water and energy, so that they can reinforce each other, (2) respect for the sustainable living environment, and (3) a socially embedded vision with social values.
- Capacity by connecting specific 'smart' networks in society (e.g. the Nature & Environment Federation).
Solar Research: Landscape and spatial quality
Renewable energy technologies, such as solar parks, are changing the landscape. Thousands of new wind turbines and hundreds of solar parks have taken up their places. As a result, society is slowly being confronted with different views and landscapes with new elements.
Solar Research: Biodiversity and nature
In 2050, the Netherlands will need about 30,000 hectares of solar panels on land. This is expected to have negative effects on the soil, biodiversity and the landscape. At the same time, it is assumed that gains in biodiversity are possible with the proper design and management of solar parks.
Solar Research: Agrivoltaics
An increasing number of solar parks are being built on agricultural land. These are primarily aimed at maximum electricity production. Such a monofunctional solar park is at the expense of the availability of land for food production. Agrivoltaics combines energy production and food or feed production, based on the idea of 'solar sharing'. In agrivoltaics, crops or grassland are placed under solar panels. In a temperate climate, these crops can benefit from protection against rain, hail, excessive radiation and heat, reduced evaporation and thus improved water use.
Solar Research: Participation and Policy
Public support for the energy transition calls for the involvement of local residents and the general public in renewable energy projects. Financial participation in energy projects and participation in decision-making are well-known forms of public participation. Multifunctional solar parks offer additional opportunities for public participation in everyday life, such as recreation. However, little is known about this. Up till now, public support for energy projects such as shale gas, nuclear energy and wind energy has not been considered from a multifunctional perspective.
Solar Research: Meso and microclimate
The weather has a great influence on solar panels and vice versa. Solar panels are supplying more and more electricity to the grid. It is therefore of fundamental importance to understand and predict how much solar radiation reaches the solar panels and how this varies.
Solar Research: Soil Quality
Some solar parks are designed in such a way that the soil is completely covered, so no light or water reaches the surface and no vegetation grows under the solar panels. This reduces life in the soil, because soil life cannot feed on new organic material. The soil then no longer stores carbon and instead emits CO2.