Powering the land: solar redevelopment

30 April 2021

 

There is an increasingly pressing necessity to decarbonize energy for fighting back against the climate emergency. Strategies put in place by national governments and international organizations to protect the environment thus demand a quick growth of sustainable and renewable power generation. In Italy, the 2030 National Energy and Climate Plan, released by the government in 2020, has set very ambitious targets in this regard, especially for solar power generation. The latter has been set to 52GW to be reached in 2030, with an intermediate step of 28,5GW in 2025.

To reach this goal, a key role is played by ground mounted PV plants, whose numbers will have to grow considerably and thus the surface space occupied. The Italian Plan however suggests to opt, as much as possible, for solutions that would contain the soil consumption. Chiron Energy’s development strategy falls in line with these suggestions: areas where to install new plants are selected according to environmental responsible and soil reuse criteria, by building on previously anthropized areas. We opt for already anthropized and compromised sites, in suburban areas, thus staying clear from densely populated areas and from the countryside. We redevelop degraded areas such as abandoned industrial areas or filled-up landfills and quarries. “This is what is happening also with our new plant which will be built in San Martino di Venezzo, in the Rovigo province” explains engineer Massimo Gaggiotti, Head of Permitting and Regulatory Compliance in Chiron Energy.

The area where the PV panels and the other components will be installed was part of a bigger industrial area, which due to macroeconomics and market conditions has been developed only partially. That portion of the land had however already been semi-urbanized, with excavations, piping, manholes and sidewalks, thus making it unusable for farming.  Fifteen years of abandonment have then caused security and urban décor issues, due to thefts, vandalism and illegal waste dumping. “Once we found the area, we opened a dialogue with the City council, to verify there hadn’t already been made plans, either by the administration or by private citizens, to redevelop it” adds Gaggiotti. A positive and constructive dialogue ensued, where it became clear that the plant will bring benefits to the citizens in terms of redevelopment of the area, in addition to the supply of clean energy. 

The company then started the authorization process, which has required us to draw up all the required documentation, ranging from design drawings to environmental reports, and to wait for the consultation between the authority, in this case the Veneto Regional administration, and all the other administrative sides involved, including the City council itself, ARPAV agency and the land reclamation consortium. “Meanwhile, in the same spirit of private and public cooperation, we have identified with the City council a useful work we could have made for the city as a thank you gift for having us there, and we held a public conference where we answered the inhabitants’ questions and clarified their uncertainties” follow up Gaggiotti.

The next, vital step, once the authorization process will be completed, would be the construction work, which will last a few months. Once built, the PV plant of San Martino di Venezze will have an installed capacity of 14.8 MW, enough to provide for the annual demand of electricity of almost 5,500 families[1]. The construction work and the subsequent maintenance will be assigned, as much as possible, to local companies, so to aid the local economy and diminish the carbon footprint caused by transportation.

The plant will also provide benefits for the surrounding environment, in addition to generating clean power: the ground will be provided with a grass coverage, thus recreating a plant cover, and local trees and shrubs will be used for the perimeter fencing. “Thanks to the specifically designed metal fences, which are raised from the soil, the small-sized fauna will be able to move freely and rest between the panels, as has been proved by a study of the German association Neue Energiewirtschaft (BNE), which has demonstrated the positive effect of PV plants for the surrounding environment biodiversity” adds Gaggiotti. The grass coverage is also catered without any pesticide or toxic substance, as prescribed by the industry’s best practice

A PV module’s average operative life is of about thirty years as of today: when it will reach its obsolescence it could be replaced, such as one replaces a car’s tire. If in the meanwhile technological advancements should have provided us with even cleaner and efficient power sources, the plant can simply be dismantled. It is a completely reversible structure: should solar power go out of fashion, the land could be reinstated both as a farming field or as an industrial area.

 

 

[1] Based on an average annual demand per family of 2,700 kWh, estimated by market authority ARERA

 

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