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Interplay between the potential of photovoltaic systems and agricultural land use

Dias, Luís, Gouveia, João Pedro, Lourenço, Paulo, Seixas, Júlia
Land use policy 2019 v.81 pp. 725-735
agricultural land, agroforestry, case studies, electric energy consumption, electricity, geographic information systems, heat production, issues and policy, land use, natural resources conservation, planning, solar collectors, solar energy, solar farms, solar radiation, Portugal, Southern European region
The recent decrease in solar photovoltaic (PV) investment cost has transformed the attractiveness of the technology. Southern Europe has one of the highest levels of solar radiation in the world, and policy makers are very keen to take full advantage of this resource for electricity and heat production. However, physiographic characteristics and specific land uses (e.g. agro-forestry and nature conservation) present important spatial constraints. This paper proposes a methodology for the evaluation of utility-scale solar PV projects’ (>1 MW) technical potential. The municipality of Évora (Portugal) was used as a case study, considering topographical features and spatial planning regulations. Three compatible scenarios for solar PV farms and other competing land uses were studied. The assessment was carried out using a geographic information system and statistical tools. It was conducted for four sizes of PV project (1, 10, 20 and 30 MW) consisting of two different technology types: concentrated PV and crystalline-silicon tracking PV. Concentrated PV 1 MW projects were found to have greater adaptability for use in available areas dispersed throughout the territory, while preserving land for agriculture and nature conservation. The scenario with land primacy for agricultural purposes reduced PV technical potential by more than half (from 2494 to 1116 MW). Nevertheless, the remaining potential was sufficient to cover substantial shares of local annual electricity consumption. The results provided support for future spatial planning regulations and local sustainable energy action plans.