October 19, 2023

Questions and Answers: Claims and Information About Solar Power

Utility scale solar power construction has rapidly entered the Finnish energy discussion and practice. Ilmatar also has plans for solar park projects with hundreds of megawatts across Finland and Sweden. We’ve compiled a list of burning questions and claims about solar power with our project development team to provide fact-based responses.

Claim: Solar power plants cause disturbing reflections.

Response: Solar panels are designed to efficiently capture sunlight, maximizing the conversion of solar energy into electricity. This is why the panels are dark and don’t reflect much light. They also have anti-reflective coatings on their glass surfaces, further reducing the reflection, making them less reflective than typical window glass.

Claim: Natural resources are insufficient to manufacture all the planned solar panels worldwide, leading to disposal rather than recycling.

Response: This topic has been thoroughly researched, and there are enough raw materials in the world. The primary material for solar panels is silicon dioxide, essentially sand. The key to long-term sustainability concerning materials is recycling, which we already do for all panels, as required by the EU. Solar panels, like other electrical appliances, should not be dumped in landfills. Among various electricity generation methods, solar power is one of the most environmentally friendly.

Claim: Solar panels can easily catch fire, emitting toxic gases.

Response: Large fires in ground-mounted solar power plants are extremely rare. These facilities are closely monitored, and deviations are promptly addressed. Solar panels are not highly flammable materials, as they are primarily made of glass and steel. Grass fires that may spread from the surroundings typically do not ignite the panels. Globally, with 1,200 GW (1,200,000 MW) of solar power installed, there have been no known injuries or casualties due to fires. In the few known solar power plant fires, the cause was usually a malfunctioning inverter or transformer, which was extinguished without spreading to the rest of the facility.

All fires, including grass fires, produce smoke, which is not healthy to breathe. Solar parks are subject to specific requirements by firefighting authorities concerning access to the site, safety distances, and other fire safety aspects. We primarily use silicon-based panels, which have lower environmental risks compared to thin-film panels.

Claim: Solar power plants contaminate groundwater and the environment.

Response: Solar power plants do not affect groundwater. Soil modifications are minimal, and high-quality stainless steel is used as a construction material. Transformers are bunded to minimize groundwater or soil contamination risks. Solar panels themselves do not release chemicals into the environment, and in many parts of the world, agriculture is practiced beneath them. Vegetation management is primarily conducted without toxins, and it can even have positive impacts on biodiversity.

Claim: If Ilmatar goes bankrupt, the restoration of the area will become the responsibility of residents and the municipality, resulting in high costs.

Response: Restoring the area is crucial for the landowners who have leased their land for the solar power project, not only for the neighbors. Land lease agreements have provisions for restoration security in case of bankruptcy. This security covers the cost of restoring the area under such exceptional circumstances.

Claim: Solar power plants lower property values in nearby properties.

Response: Property values are mainly influenced by on-site buildings and features, with external factors having a lesser role. Solar power plants primarily change the landscape, which is perceived differently by different individuals. On the other hand, solar power plants generate revenue for the municipality/city and landowners, allowing investments in the region and the maintenance and improvement of local services. Local visual impacts are minimized through smart siting and landscaping solutions, which also collect feedback from nearby residents.

Claim: Solar power plants damage nearby roads.

Response: Ilmatar establishes agreements for the use of all private roads and road association roads required for the project and is responsible for any necessary road upgrades and maintenance during the entire lifecycle of the solar park. During the construction phase, there may be some heavy traffic, but this is infrequent during decades of operation. After the operation and site restoration, Ilmatar ensures that the roads are left in good condition.