Monthly Archives: August 2015

Visualising Solar Farms: FAQ

The visual impact of a Solar Farm is a key consideration in getting a development through the planning system. The Department for Energy and Climate Change specifically mention visual impact in their Planning and Practice Guidance for Renewable and Low Carbon Energy

the visual impact of a  well-planned and well-screened solar farm can be properly addressed within the landscape if planned sensitively

Below, we’ve put together a few Frequently Asked Questions about visualising ground mounted solar farms and how VentusAR can help with progress through the planning process.

Where in the UK will Solar Work Well?

Solar Radiance map

Solar Radiance map of irradiation in kWh/m2 (averaged 1997 to 2003). Data from Met Office

The map below shows the total average solar irradiation falling on a one square metre horizontal surface, measured in kilo-Watt hours (kWh). This shows that capacity for power generation ranges from > 1200 kWh / m2 in the south west of the UK to < 900 kWh / m2 in northern Scotland. As a summary, South will work better than north and the coast will work better than inland – mainly due to cloud cover.

VentusAR is being used to visualise solar farms all over the country – from Aberdeenshire to Cornwall and everywhere in between.

How Big is a Solar Panel?

Panel DimensionsA single photo voltaic panel is approximately 1m by 1.5m. The VentusAR panel is based on the Yingli Solar YL280C-30b. This is 990mm by 1640mm. See the datasheet for more information.

An individual solar panel doesn’t have much affect on the overall visual impact of a solar farm, as the appearance is similar between manufacturers.  However, custom appearances may be loaded into VentusAR to provide a more realistic experience, please contact us for more information.

How Big is a Solar Panel Bank or Frame?

What is actually visualised is an array of panels arranged on an engineered structure, called a panel bank or frame. The alignment and arrangement of these are worked out by the developer when they are designing the site. In VentusAR we have a standard model containing 6 individual panels long by 4 high. This gives a total of 24 solar panels in a bank or frame.PanelBank DimensionsHence, in VentusAR our base model shows 24 solar panels in the landscape, a farm is made up of many unit models.  Our solar panel has the following dimensions (I covered in more detail last time): 9m wide, 4m deep, 0.6m to 2.8m high, 25degree slope facing south

How Big can a Solar Farm or Array Be?

There are no practical limitations in VentusAR, as big as you want to create! Any size of solar farm can be viewed in VentusAR on the iPad or Android tablet. We have successfully modelled solar farms of 3,000 individual panel banks and can create the Fly Through, My View and Gallery views for visual impact assessment, planning and community consultation.

Is there any Guidance around Visualising Solar farms?

Several different public and national bodies have published some guidance on solar planning applications. These are listed below. We welcome guidance being published and envision that as solar panels become more widespread then best practices will emerge for how visulaisations should be produced (as has already happened for wind farm development).

VentusAR is already compliant the SNH 2.1 guidelines for visualising windfarms, so it already follows a process and repeatable photomontages and wirelines to produced.

How are Live Photomontages Created?

One of the key features of VentusAR is that it can augment the camera feed. This provides a more realistic, engaging experience of understanding what a solar farm looks like. We’ve undertaken some research with Glasgow University Psychology Department about how the public trust different sorts of visualisations.

In VentusAR’s My View mode, we show a real time Augmented Reality view of what the view would look like with the new solar farm. This is made of a few components

  • A camera feed is shown the background
  • On top of this the visible terrain is shown. The relevant area is taken from our national terrain database using the iPad GPS (for location) and sensors (for look direction)
  • Finally the solar models shown in that field of view

This provides a live real-time photomontage which is excellent at engaging communities and stake holders alike.

What Other Approaches are Taken?

Scottowmoor-Solar-Farm We’ve seen some excellent examples of the lengths you can go to to communicate what the effects of a solar farm would look like. My favorites is Scottow Moor Solar Farm built on an old RAF air field near Norfolk, this website contains 360degree photography and an in browser interactive experience to show the effect of the  solar panels on the look of the air field.

This is exactly the kind of engaging experience we are creating with our VentusAR solar farm visualisations. It clearly demonstrates the visual effects of the solar farm to the public.

Has Anyone used VentusAR in a Solar Planning Application?

In the few weeks since the solar release, VentusAR has already been used for submissions on several planning applications. Possibly there are more that I haven’t spotted yet.  The high quality visualisations are created quickly and efficiently, for both scoping and full submissions.

I will hopefully be able to talk about the details of this soon.

Does Anyone Have a Cumulative Database of Solar Locations?

OS Map Icon

OS solar farm map icon

You may have heard recently that OS have produced a map icon for a solar farm (announced on the One Show in July 2015).

The best source of cumulative information at the moment is the individual local authority’s website. There is currently no need to submit cumulative information along with a planning application, but as we run a cumulative database for onshore wind in the UK, we will be watching this closely and talking to our customers about whether there is a need for a solar database in the UK as well.

How Can I Find out More?

VentusAR for Solar was released in the Summer of 2015. It is built on 3 years of experience  providing realistic infield visualisations for the onshore wind industry. If you are planning a solar farm, VentusAR could help you could help you communicate and understand the visual impact faster, better and more efficiently. Get in touch to find out more (email: hello@ventusar.com or phone: 0141 559 6170)

How to Create Your First Solar Project

Last week we launched VentusAR 4.0. One of the key features of VentusAR 4.0 is that it can now be used to produce solar array visualisations. In this blog, we’re going to to talk through the process of creating a Solar Project and visualising the results (screen shots are from an iPad, but we also support Android of course).

We set up an array of 100 solar frames on Glasgow Green (because it is near the office) using the VentusAR portal. We chose a rather nice day to go out to to the park and take some photos for the site work (there have been a few nice days this summer). The flow chart below shows the simple steps for this project.

Process to Create Visualisations of a Solar Farm

Process to create visualisations of a solar farm

1. Setup Project in the Portal

  • From the VentusAR portal, create a project. Ours is called Glasgow Green. Choose the project type of Solar from the list of available project types and fill out the other details of your project.
Create Project

Create Project

  • From the Layout tab, create a New Layout Version. Fill out the details as required.
  • Import Solar panels either from CSV file (in the Import Solar Panel section) or individually by entering the coordinates and clicking Add Solar Panel. All existing users of VentusAR will have a new solar panel type called Standard Solar Panel 9m which is our standard solar model. It is possible to customise this model – please contact us or wait for a further blog post for details.
Create Solar

Add or Import a Solar Panel

2. Bulk Download on the iPad

solar150-e1438175420529 Projects in the app have an icon to distinguish what type they are. Solar projects have a solar sunshine icon next to them.  Choose a project and click Begin to start the bulk download process running. This process will download all the data needed (terrain, mapping and 3D model data) to produce a visualisation. Once the bulk download process has completed, you’re ready to go. You no longer need to be connected to the internet to produce a visualisation.

3. Go on Site – Take some Captures

The device knows where it is and it knows which direction it is looking. Take it out and stand at places where you might be able to see your solar array and have a go.

In our case we went to Glasgow Green, mounted the iPad on a tripod using our field kit and had a look at My View. My View provides a live preview of the camera feed with the solar panels overlaid at the correct height and size.

Once you’re happy with the view, Take a Photo. This will store the image along with the metadata of where the device was and which direction it was looking. We recommend taking a few captures to allow you to choose between several options later.

4. Generate a Render

All images are stored in the gallery part of VentusAR. Launch one of the captures (tap on it) to re-create the view you were seeing on site. This shows the photograph plus the solar panels. Ensure that the calibration is correct using the left-hand calibration panel.

Photomontage To generate a photomontage (camera + solar panel with no wireline), take the following steps:

  • In the right-hand panel on the details tab, at the bottom tap on Wireline and change it to No Terrain
  • Change to the Options Tab and ensure Camera Feed switch is on
  • Then tap Generate Render to create the render

Wireline

To generate a wireline (no camera, solar panel with wireline):

  • In the right-hand panel on the details tab, at the bottom tap on No Terrain and change it to Wireline.
  • Change to the Options Tab and ensure Camera Feed switch is off
  • Then tap Generate Render to create the render

Renders produced on an iPad are large – file size approx 10Mb of pixel size 4096px by 3059px. These are large enough for printing on A3 pages and submitting as part of a planning application.

5. Sync back to the portal

Once everything is created in the project gallery, choose Options (in top right of the gallery window) then Sync All. This is a really easy way of copying all the captures and renders from the gallery to the portal. It can take a few minutes to complete and requires you to be connected to the internet.

IMG_0286

Sync All in the iPad Gallery

6. Create PDFs for Sharing

Once the media has been uploaded to the portal, it is all stored under the media tab.

MEdia Tab

Media Tab in the Portal

At the bottom of the page, under Other Actions there s a button to Publish Renders to PDF. This is used to wrap the individual renders into a single PDF with the viewpoint information on each page. This provides an easy file that can be shared with stakeholders or submitted as part of a planning application.

ChooseImages

Choose Images to Include in PDF

On the next page, select the renders you want to include in the PDF. In this case I have two renders on this project, so I’ve selected both of them to be included. The renders don’t have to be from the same viewpoint , if you want to produce one PDF of visuals for the entire site, that is possible from this PDF Publisher too. Once you are happy with your selection of render, choose Publish to PDF (top / bottom of the page).

View PDF

Published PDF Tab

Once the PDF has been created, it will be store in the Published PDF tab on the portal. Here you can download, rename, view and delete the file as required. An example of the PDF produced is available below.

pdficon_large Glasgow Green

That’s It!

The addition of the tools to visualise solar projects in VentusAR 4.0 makes it really quick to assess and communicate what a solar farm will look like before it is built. Get in touch to hear how VentusAR help you communicate what your solar array would look like rapidly, effectively and economically.

Introducing the Solar Model

As part of the VentusAR 4.0 release, we have included a few new standard models. In this post we will introduce you to the new solar panel model. We also added a new transmission model which will be covered in a future post.

This is our new 9m wide solar panel model. It has the following dimensions:

  • Width – 9m
  • Depth – 4m
  • Height (shortest height) – 0.6m
  • Height (tallest height) – 2.6m
  • Angle – 25degrees
  • Legs – 3
  • Leg thickness – 0.12m
  • Face – South

Textures

This model makes use of UV Mapped textures. UV Mapped textures are a way of separating the texture (colours and surface look) from the 3D model structure. The benefit of doing this is that the texture can be changed and loaded independently from the model. If you decide a different colour solar surface would look better if it didnt have the grid on it. Or if the legs of the model were painted a different shade of grey to blend in with the environment better, then a new texture can be loaded into VentusAR and the models will update. Textures must have dimensions of the power of 2 – the smaller the size the faster the 3D view will run.

Solar_Panel_9m_DiffuseMap_Grey

UV Texture with Grid on Solar Face and Detail on Legs

SolarModel

Standard Texture in Action

Solar_Panel_9m_DiffuseMap_PurpleAndWhite

UV Texture with No Grid and No Solid Structure

Solar_PurpleAndWhite

Simplier Texture in Action

To download the standard solar model texture, click here.

Performance

We have tried a solar farm with 2000 panel banks and the performance is good on the iPad Air 2. This has provided acceptable performance for all the solar projects that we have tried VentusAR on. (Note the iPad Air 2 is the most powerful device we support so if you are using one of the older devices, please get in contact as we have some tricks to speed up the process.)

Custom Models

The technology behind VentusAR is very flexible so we can load in any 3D models into our visualisation modes. The addition of Solar and Transmission models in VentusAR are the first steps in the journey towards loading any type of model into the VentusAR visualisation modes.

If you are working on a project where showing a custom 3D model in an augmented reality camera feed would help, get in contact by emailing hello@ventusar.com

VentusAR 4.0 is Released

This morning we released the latest version of VentusAR v4.0. This release brings the ability to use VentusAR to quickly visualise ground-mounted solar farms and transmission towers.

We are particularly excited about being able to visualise solar arrays as we have seen a lot of expansion in the renewables industry into solar planning & development.

Solar

solar150-e1438175420529VentusAR now includes two default solar panel models. These 3D models have textures to make them look photo-realistic and have dimensions of 9m x 4m x 2.6m and 18m x 4m x 2.6m. They have a slope of 25 degrees and face south. We have been using these in trials with existing clients – here’s what they had to say about it.

“We have been trialling the Solar Ventus model for about 8 weeks, so far we have submitted 3 projects into planning utilising the app to produce the visualisations. The app has allowed us to produce visualisations from a single platform, instead of combining a number of graphics packages, significantly reducing the time taken to get the end product. The quality of the model has improved significantly following input from GCR and fast follow up from the Linknode Team.” Rob Collin, Green Cat Renewables

“It is a brilliant and useful piece of kit. We have used it on a number of projects to indicate visibility from a range of viewpoints. We will be using it as part of our consultations to help members of the public visualise our solar parks. It has also helped in our design process, letting us recognise and minimise visual effects”  Ben Checkley, Good Energy

20150731_083754_0_ea5435d5-ca5c-44b6-9ef3-54d76c19ac90_render

New Solar Panels Modelled by VentusAR

Transmission

Transmisson150-e1438175441149

With the expansion from wind turbines, we have also introduced the ability to assess the landscape visual impact of transmission towers. The process of creating a transmission visualisation is the same simple process that VentusAR for wind and solar users follow. A 3D model is placed at a coordinate, then the visualisation models allow viewing in My View, Fly Through and Gallery.

Wind

onshore150-e1438175454732As always we are constantly adding performance improvements to VentusAR for the benifit of all our customers. This time we have addresses a series of minor issues and customer driven efficiencies.

See the full release notes for portal, iPad and Android at ventusar.com.

Bespoke Models

It doesnt stop there! The technology that we use to generate these visualisations is easy to reuse. We are currently trialling a few other rural structures in VentusAR  – please feel free to get in touch if you want to try out any other models for your projects.

Pricing Changes

All our existing customers will automatically have their license upgraded to visualise the new Solar and Transmission domains for free.

New VentusAR customers will get one domain (Wind, Solar or Transmission) as part of the initial subscription with additional domains available for purchase. See the pricing page for full details.