Solar energy on farmlands: this discussion deserves facts

Solar energy on farmland. The current debate often has unsubtle reporting. But the discussion surrounding solar panels on farmland deserves facts. Solar parks are of great importance in the energy transition. TPSolar also advocates solar-on-roof first, but this technology alone will not achieve the energy and climate goals in time.

Solar parks take up little agricultural land

The Kadaster has published a research report on solar parks in the Netherlands and what land is being used for them. These are solar parks that were realized or under construction by the end of 2022. In total there are 3,621 hectares of solar parks in the Netherlands until this period. Of which almost half of these solar parks are in or near built-up areas, and 44 percent are along auto or railroads.

We have over 1.8 million hectares of agricultural land in the Netherlands. Only 0.12 percent of this agricultural land is used for solar parks. Five times this space produces enough solar power to provide (on average) 5.6 million Dutch households with renewable energy. A small impact on farmland, but a big impact on the energy transition.

A solution for farmers

Nitrogen, ammonia, CO2, biodiversity, succession – problems abound in the agricultural sector. More and more farmers fear for the survival of their businesses. In addition, the food farmer and the energy farmer are often pitted against each other. Nothing could be further from the truth. One does not have to exclude the other.

In fact, a solar farm can be a great solution to problems in the agricultural sector. We have numerous examples of landowners we work with who are happy with a solar farm as an addition to their agricultural business. It provides security, peace of mind and a steady income with guarantees for decades. For example, in addition to pears, our landowners at the Zeewolde solar farm are now growing green electricity. You can read the whole story of Roy and Angenita here.

Dairy farmer Jos de Bie also agrees on the positive side of a solar farm in combination with his business: “We keep enough land for all our cows and are assured of a steady income.” To build a future for the farm and his children, the solar farm provides a continuous stream of income. You can read Jos’ whole story here.

Interconnecting opportunities for solar parks

Solar parks can be well combined with other social functions, such as forms of participation or multifunctional use of space. Participation in the form of local employment, environmental or sustainability funds, the pursuit of 50% local ownership, or an opportunity for farmers with regard to nitrogen or succession. Multifunctional use of space often initially involves solar panels on roofs, floating on water, over fruit or a carport. Much more can be combined with solar parks, such as water storage, oxidizing peat soil, battery storage, hydrogen, small livestock and nature stimulation. TPSolar has created a brochure within the Alliance Sun with other developers about the various forms of multifunctional use of space. This brochure contains examples of the coupling opportunities of solar parks in the Netherlands.

Temporality of solar parks

A solar farm is temporary. A permit is required to build a solar farm. The permit period is determined by the municipality and the province. Currently, a solar farm is usually licensed for 25 or 30 years. After these 25/30 years, TPSolar is obliged to clean up the solar farm and return the land in its original state to the landowner. We agree this with both the municipality and the landowner; it is secured in contracts.

Solar energy on agricultural land is a proven solution to the increasing energy demand. Eventually all roofs in the Netherlands will be fitted with solar panels. This will only take too long. Time we don’t have. To meet the climate and energy goals, temporary solar parks on agricultural land are needed.

Netherlands not yet on track for tightened energy targets

On Thursday, Oct. 26, 2023, the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL) published their annual Climate and Energy Outlook (KEV) report. PBL concludes that the Netherlands is not yet on track to meet all the tightened energy targets for 2030. Renewable energy is well on its way, but we are not there yet. In addition, in its climate review 2023, the Council of State warns that the government is not yet making ‘the step from paper to practice’.

Towards 2050, our energy consumption is going to change. Road transport will be electrified, homes insulated, recycling of raw materials, heat networks, use of the Internet and Artificial Intelligence (AI) and an increase in population. Energy efficiency will also increase, but a large increase in energy consumption is expected. PBL and TNO cite an energy consumption of 3,500 petajoules (PJ) as realistic for the Netherlands in 2050. If we want all this energy to be generated sustainably in 2050, large-scale energy projects are needed. All types of projects, offshore wind, wind on land, rooftop solar, solar on land and perhaps nuclear power plants.

Solar energy is a proven success and the foundation of the energy transition. We have built a system in the Netherlands where the step from paper to practice succeeds. Systems such as solar energy on farmland. Solar parks are necessary to meet the Dutch climate target in time (2030 and 2050) and to be assured of sustainable energy in the future.