How to Map Potential Solar Panel Ground Areas?

Solar panels

Renewable energy sources have a key role when decreasing CO2-emissions and preventing climate change. Solar energy is one of the most potential options to produce energy in a clean way. PV-panels can for example be installed on the roof areas of the existing buildings or new buildings under construction. But when planning to implement  big scale PV-plants, the most convenient choice is to locate panels on the appropriate ground area. Process how to identify the most suitable ground areas for solar panel plant shall be conducted in a structural way step-by-step. 

Before starting to map potential ground areas, some preliminary work is needed to be done, discussed and finally decided. There exist several optional business models, which are possible when implementing the PV-plant. In practice external funding is always needed, when PV-plant of MW-size is under planning process. Funding can be available both from commercial partners and public sources as form of subsides. The business model may be based for example on the idea, that the ground area for the PV-plant is located on the very nearby of potential (for example industrial) end user. Always the main issue under discussion is, that implementing of a PV-plant shall be profitable and attractive in the funding point of view.    

Furthermore an appropriate template for evaluating identified ground areas shall be available. The template shall be comprehensive and include relevant versatile categories in aiming to create the final rank list of identified areas. The categories could be for example following: 

 -area registration and identification details *) 

-name of area *) 

-exact address of area *) 

-total square-m2 of area *) 

-estimation square-m2 of area, which can be utilized *) 

-owner of area (priorized city owned & other public owned areas) *) 

-evaluation of ground & soil quality 

-city master plan exists (yes / no) 

-current usage 

-existing obstacles 

-potential energy user located in the neighborhood 

-master power line (min 110 kV) located in the neighborhood 

-threat of vandalism 

-nature issues, flora & fauna, endangered species 

-opinion of neighbors and citizens 

-public visibility and imago issues 

-historical values 

-logistical issues (roads etc…) 

-easiness for maintenance work 

-capability to survive of extreme weather conditions 

-sun light shadowing conditions 

*) =basic information of identified area 

The template itself can be quite simple, for example excel based sheet as presented in the chart below. Criteria for evaluation are in separate columns and written judgement for each column shall be filled, when reviewing ground areas. It is preferable to use written evaluation instead of pure numeric, especially when amount of evaluated areas are rather large.   

Potential solar panel ground areas in the xx municipality

The identifying phase of ground areas shall be started with desktop research. This means in practice deep study of all potential areas inside the defined land area (for example inside a specified municipality borders) by utilizing existing map material. By conducting this desktop work the main purpose is to find enough big number of interesting areas for more detailed investigation. 

After preliminary study has been finalized, the next step is to take a practical walk and review of all identified areas. Remember to plan carefully the logistical issues of the review to avoid unnecessary travelling, especially when there is long distance between areas. The evaluation template shall be used when estimating all areas by filling criteria columns. It is also extremely essential to document all visits at areas by taking sufficient number of photos for further discussions.  

When all areas have been evaluated and columns of template have been filled, the next phase is to summarize the results. This can be implemented for example by publishing “top ranking” of evaluated areas. The summary can be also divided in different categories based on the estimated MW-size of planned PV-plant, see sample template below. 

Ranking Summary

All presented elements and information are needed to be provided as basic material, before starting to negotiate in cooperation with commercial partners to implement further steps of PV-plants. 

Author: Matti Pylkkö, Environmental office of Lappeenranta region, Finland