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)