What a Looker: Solar Power Plants

Solar energy is a good option for areas of high solar irradiation because it can produce large amounts of electricity at low levels of pollution. One of the only direct pollutants is visual alteration of the landscape where panels are placed. Following EU regulations, Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) requires a visual impact analysis for large solar power plant constructions. Torres–Sibille et al. (2009) devised a system to judge the aesthetic impact of a given solar power plant.  When compared with real subjective human evaluation indicator used in this study generally explains user preferences well and will be useful in determining where to build solar plants and how best to do so to minimize visual impacts.— Teija Mortvedt 
Torres–Sibille, A. C., Cloquell–Ballester, Viceente–A., Cloquell–Ballester, Victor-A., Ramirez, M. A. A., 2009. Aesthetic Impact Assessment of Solar Power Plants: An Objective and a Subjective Approach. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews 13, 986–999. 

 Torres–Sibille and colleagues at Valencia University of Technology devised their method of aesthetic impact analysis based on expert methodology used to analyze wind power.  Solar power is similar to wind in that it dramatically transforms the appearance of a landscape with out dramatically altering the land itself.  The effect of solar panels is at a much lower altitude than wind power but still obvious.

The researchers focused on aesthetic impact based on visibility, color, fractality and concurrence between fixed and mobile panels. Relative importance was assigned to each variable and data were combined in mathematical models used to determine how a user might perceive a given power plant landscape. Factors such as color of panels, surrounding flora and layout were important to the public.  It was shown that the model was able to match preferences well by giving positive or negative values to several criteria.

Models of this sort and further study will be helpful in determining the visual impacts solar power plants have on people. Perception is very important when matters involve public approval and that may be the case for solar plants. Knowing what appeals to the eye will help developers build the most pleasant systems possible and fewer citizens might complain that a solar power plant has ruined the view.   

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