Along the A7 motorway between Hoorn and Den Oever, four entrances and exits at Wognum, Abbekerk, Medemblik and Middenmeer will be equipped with solar fields. This is done in the context of 'Sun along the A7', one of the first ten pilot projects of the OER programme. The pilot project is part of the Regional Energy Strategy (RES) of North Holland North. Due to the double use of the entrance and exit ramps, the scarce space is used efficiently.
Rijkswaterstaat is investigating whether more entrances and exits along the A7 can be equipped with solar fields in the future. “The pilot projects contribute to the energy transition. In addition, they are intended to gain experience, to see what works and what doesn't,” says Francois Bonajo. He is a renewable energy project manager at the Central Government Real Estate Agency. The Central Government Real Estate Agency can offer part of the government land to the market.
Sun along the A7 is a promising initiative. An exploration showed that a total of about 5.5 hectares is available for solar panels at the four nodes. This is good for approximately 5.5 MW of production capacity for green electricity.
A market consultation was held prior to the public tender, says Bonajo. “The feasibility of the project seemed difficult: network congestion, a relatively small area divided over four locations, two landowners and two municipalities involved. The market consultation gave a mixed picture.”
Nevertheless, several parties applied, after which the project was awarded to Ecorus. Since 2016, this company has experience with the development and realization of solar parks, including along highways. “We were awarded the contract because our participation plan complied with the policy of the municipalities,” says René Houtwipper. As project manager of solar on land projects at Ecorus, he is responsible for the Solar project along the A7.
The preparations for Zon along the A7 have now started, but those who expect the solar panels to be installed this year will have to be patient. “We give developers two years to further develop their plans. This is laid down in the preliminary agreement. After that, the right of superficies is established and construction can begin,” says Bonajo.
Houtwipper: “I think we will be very optimistic when we are ready for implementation in two years' time, but we are striving for that. Preliminary work has already been done, but there is still no permit and no grid connection yet. We have signed the preliminary agreement, but the planning and participation still have to happen. It takes time to do that carefully.”
Cooperation with other parties also takes time, adds Houtwipper. “We not only work with the Central Government Real Estate Agency, but also with Rijkswaterstaat, the province of North Holland, municipalities, the Hoogheemraadschap, but especially with people who live or work in the immediate vicinity. All those parties are involved in this project.” The project involves four locations, in two municipalities and with two landowners, says Bonajo. “That doesn't make it any easier, neither for us nor for Ecorus.”
For Zon along the A7, solar panels have been chosen on the ground, along the verge. That is the most common method, says Bonajo. “That's relatively easy. With solar panels on noise barriers, for example, the situation is more complex than when panels are placed on the ground, both in a technical and legal sense. This raises various questions, such as: is the noise barrier strong enough to support the panels, is it safe enough, how do we properly arrange it legally? That requires extra research and efforts to arrange it properly.”
Houtwipper: “It is also possible to cover parking spaces along the highway or even the highway itself with solar panels, but that is still experimental and innovative. If we were to do that, there would have to be a detailed plan that guarantees safety. That requires huge upfront investments. And then you always have to wait and see whether such a plan is accepted. For Zon along the A7, we mainly use solar panels on the ground, so no roofs.”
The most efficient way is to place as many solar panels as possible in a field, says Houtwipper. “We want to make optimal use of the space. In practice, however, we also have to take other matters into account, such as whether the solar panels are accessible for maintenance. We also have to ensure that the solar field can be connected to the grid in a smart way, via an existing connection, or else via a new connection. With a new connection, a cable must be routed to a substation, preferably nearby. This not only determines the costs and the payback period, but also the load on the electricity grid.”
“A relatively small project such as Zon along the A7 also has an impact on the grid balance. To reduce grid congestion, Ecorus is looking for an existing grid connection, explains Houtwipper. “We sought cooperation with FastNed, which has a charging station at two of the four locations. Those charging stations already have a connection, but also a need for electricity. Together we will explore what is possible. We are also looking at a wind farm and a business park that can help us with an existing grid connection.”
Houtwipper: “Landscape integration is always the starting point for every solar park. This is important to create support in the environment. Almost everyone is in favor of the energy transition, but when people talk about windmills or solar parks in their own backyard, things are different. We therefore always involve a landscape architect. We have already done that for this trajectory. During the pre-registration we already showed some ideas for the landscape integration at the A7. For example, a lot of attention is paid to preserving the existing greenery.”
“Together with the environment, we look at opportunities to add extra value to solar fields. Local residents often have good ideas that we want to use in the development of this project,” says Houtwipper.
Bonajo: “A local resident has a much better feeling for the neighborhood and knows what is going on and what is good for the environment. That input is valuable.”
Woodwipper: “Okay. We want to seek communication with the environment at the earliest possible stage. That is necessary if you want to be good neighbors for 25 years.”
Local residents are involved in Zon along the A7 from Ecorus, says Houtwipper. “My goal is that the communication and participation plan is supported by the entire project group with clients. This plan includes organizing information evenings, approaching all relevant parties, and setting up a website for the benefit of the project. The kitchen table conversations are also part of this and are at least as important as the large gatherings. It is about the process, the content and the participation.”
Financial participation is also important for local residents, says Houtwipper. “How this is implemented depends on the wishes and policy of the municipalities, but also on the needs of local residents. Are they waiting for an environmental fund from which local projects and associations can be financially supported? Or do they want to fight energy poverty by lowering energy prices? Medemblik and Hollands Kroon have indicated that they consider the latter important.”
There are four options for financial participation: financial participation through shares or bonds, a local residents scheme (where local residents receive a benefit, such as a discount on green electricity or a contribution for making their home more sustainable), an environmental scheme (such as a contribution to a green or sustainability fund) , and local ownership or co-ownership.
“We are going to explore which of the four options are suitable for this project,” says Houtwipper. “In the exploration we are working together with Zonnepanelendelen.nl. In addition, we will also maintain contact with local energy cooperatives, such as the North Holland Energy Cooperative (NHEC).”
Bonajo: “In our bid books we also try to take into account local wishes and the policy of the municipality. That's what we did in this project. For example, the participation plan was tested against the municipal policy drawn up by Hollands Kroon and Medemblik. We have also made sure that the two municipalities have a uniform policy in this area. This prevents confusion about the implementation, if the project area is divided between two municipalities, as is the case with Zon along the A7. The same conditions apply to all nodes.”
Sun along highways is a good investment, says Houtwipper. “In all RES's you see that sun along highways are regarded as no-regret areas. Almost all of those strips are colored in. I think that is also a logical place to install solar panels. You shouldn't want that in a meadow bird core area or a Natura 2000 area, but many locations along existing infrastructure are potentially promising. We can all use the knowledge and experience that we all gain from this project for future developments. We are working on this for the long term.”
We all want to become more sustainable, but what is the right step to immediately become more sustainable? Make an appointment with one of our solar consultants for tailor-made advice. Without charge.