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Concerns around solar farms

Concerns around solar farms
January 6, 2015 Kai Frolic

Since writing this article we’ve created an updated version. Click here to read volume 2 for 2019.

Solar energy projects form part of the renewable energy landscape in numerous countries around the world. Solar developments are operational and/or on the agenda in Europe, China, Australia, the USA and South America.

However, proposals for solar farms receive objections from local residents and stakeholders alike over potential impacts. Concerns range from visual impacts to health and safety. We present a short overview of some of the issues that can come up when proposals for solar farms are announced.

Glint & Glare, Noise and EM interference can all be concerns that arise when a planning application for a solar farm is submitted.

Visual Impact

Like any proposed structure, concerns can be raised over the visual impact a solar development will have on its surroundings. This is particularly an issue if the location is in some way protected, for example a Conservation Area or an Area of Outstanding National Beauty (AONB).

Assessment of the visual impact and careful planning of the panel locations and any required shielding is highly advisable at the scoping stage of a development.

Reflections from the Panels

Panel reflection is possibly the most common safety concern raised for solar developments, and is commonly referred to as ‘glint and glare’ concerns. Solar panels are designed to absorb as much light as possible and reflect as little as possible. Many modern panels are ‘anti-glare’ to minimise reflections further.

However, 100% absorption is not achieved and some level of solar reflection will always occur. Concerns can be raised by residents, airports, councils and other stakeholders. Regarding residents, the concern is generally that reflections will cause a discomfort or a nuisance. For aviators and drivers it can be a safety concern.

Guidance regarding this issue has been published by the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) in the USA [1] and the Civil Aviation in the United Kingdom [2]. It is not unusual for planning authorities and/or local councils to have their own policies or guidance regarding this issue.

The good news is that the reflections behave predictably – because they are dependent on the position of the sun and the angle of the panels, two factors that can be accurately quantified. It is good practice to undertake detailed study of the potential glint and glare impacts for a proposed development.

Electromagnetic Interference

All electronic equipment has associated electromagnetic fields. In some cases, electronic devices that are in close proximity to one another can encounter interference as a result of these fields. Commercial equipment such as solar panels are generally subject to limits that determine the maximum allowable emissions limits [3].

In cases where a proposed solar development is located within close proximity to sensitive sites such as transmitting stations, concerns over electromagnetic interference can be raised. In such cases detailed assessment can be required. This is relatively unusual and impacts in the wider area are generally not an issue.

Noise

Concerns over noise can be expressed for a solar development. This issue is more pertinent for other technologies such as wind farms, which are noisier than solar farms. Any issues would most likely be constrained to locations in very close proximity to the inverters, but in practice this is not a big issue for solar developments.

Other Concerns

Occasionally, residents raise other issues including fire hazards, light pollution and fears of health risks associated with electromagnetic fields. These issues cannot be readily associated with solar farms and are unlikely to play a significant role in the exploitation of this technology.

Have you encountered other concerns that have been raised from a solar farm proposal, and we haven’t mentioned? We’d love to know.

References

[1] http://www.faa.gov, Last accessed 29 December 2014

[2] http://www.caa.co.uk, Last accessed 29 December 2014

[3] For example, BS EN 55011:9 defines such limits for devices operating from 0 to 400 GHz

8 Comments

  1. Dr Gen Cannibal 5 years ago

    strangely enough the main issues we have had raised on the 4 large scale solar projects that we have carried out environmental planning works for, the main issues have been drainage and archaeology/heritage. This mainly comes from the fact that we are in Scotland and many of the Scottish sites are on moorland and other GWDTEs. Archaeology concerns (and it can be quite demanding) comes from many of the planning authorities having a misconceived notion that there will be a widescale intrusive site works

  2. Danny Scrivener 5 years ago

    Thank you for your comment. It is always interesting to discover the various issues solar developers face.

  3. anne payton 4 years ago

    Is it possible for solar farms panels to reflect traffic noise from a motorway or busy road?

  4. Author
    Kai Frolic 4 years ago

    Hi Anne. Thank you for commenting. I have never heard of reflected road noise from solar panels causing a problem before.

    • ivonne van duren 11 months ago

      Dear Kai,
      a big solar farm near a highway and is on the north east from the highway, it defenitely is reflecting the traffic noise espacially with strong south west einds and in the harvest and winter.

      • admin 11 months ago

        Hi Ivonne,

        That is interesting. It is not an issue I have seen for the applications I’ve dealt with up to now. Thank you for the information.

        Regards,
        Kai

  5. john hall 8 months ago

    WHY isn’t Jeremy Rifkin speaking out against this?Solar Panels are essential to his Third Industrial Revolution.
    Rifkin would never have let the Biotechnology industry get away with something like this.

    • admin 8 months ago

      Hi John,

      Thank you for reading and leaving a comment. I don’t really think this is a question of the industry ‘getting away’ with anything. The technology is still finding its feet in some ways, but I think the goal is to recognise the issues and deal with them accordingly.

      Many thanks,

      Kai

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