solar farms on brownfields
Brownfields are areas of land that are vacant due to contamination. In recent years, solar firms have built hundreds of solar farms on brownfields to utilize the empty space. Brownfields are often located near low-income communities that lack affordable access to power. Installing solar farms on brownfields promotes environmental sustainability and can provide cheap, clean power access to local communities.

Jobs and Access to Power

Building solar farms on brownfields can create jobs and transform abandoned land into an economic and environmental asset for low-income communities. Both site owners and local communities have saved millions in energy costs from transforming brownfields into hotspots of renewable energy, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Affordable access to electricity can help alleviate “energy poverty” in low-income communities that surround brownfields. Energy poverty is the phenomenon in which people experiencing poverty have the least access to power. Therefore, they are more likely to remain impoverished, according to the World Bank. Installing solar farms in brownfields could help provide electricity to the 1.1 billion people worldwide who lack access to it. Transforming brownfields into solar farms is a sustainable method of providing affordable energy to low-income communities.

Land Reuse and Protection

Installing solar farms on brownfields often involves land restoration, reuse and protection, which all serve nearby communities. For example, solar panels can sit atop a landfill without digging into the ground and damaging the land’s foundation, creating unwanted pathways for stormwater or puncturing the top of the landfill. Solar panels can also have a design that complements the pre-existing materials on the brownfield, like mill tailings, without further damaging or contaminating the land. Additionally, solar firms often avoid disrupting the soil as much as they can by mindfully designing, installing and operating their solar farms. Transforming brownfields into solar farms is a non-disruptive, and often even protective, method of utilizing vacant land while simultaneously providing clean, affordable energy to low-income communities.

Benefits of Sustainable Energy

Brownfields can offer solar power as a main source of energy to low-income communities, and renewable energy has a variety of social benefits. For one, renewable energy can be less expensive than non-renewable energy, especially when it comes from a local source. It can also minimize low-income families’ reliance on public utilities to provide them with energy. Solar energy is a reliable source of power that essentially will not run out. Renewable energy also reduces pollution, which creates a healthier environment, especially in places with brownfields and ample contamination. A healthier environment can often lead to a healthier population, both mentally and physically. Additionally, solar farms require people to build, operate and maintain the equipment. Therefore, building solar farms on brownfields can employ people in surrounding communities and help them support their families while also preserving the environment.

Creating solar farms out of brownfields has social, economic and environmental benefits. Countries around the world can utilize vacant, contaminated land to preserve the environment and help lift low-income communities out of poverty. Turning brownfields into “brightfields” could be the next great step in reducing energy poverty.

– Cleo Hudson
Photo: Flickr

Solar Panels in SyriaSolar panels in Syria have shone a light on a dark corner of the country. In the Syrian province of Idlib, locals and refugees shield their eyes from the sun glinting off their solar panels. Even though solar panels are considered a luxury across the globe, the area of war-torn Idlib is full of solar panels. These solar panels are many citizens’ only source of electricity and heat.

Electricity Issues in Idlib

Idlib is also the stronghold of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), which has been labeled a terrorist organization. Due to conflict, citizens of Idlib have struggled to get by. At first, after the Syrian government cut off power to the province due to the presence of HTS, residents relied upon fuel-powered generators for electricity. For years, people suffered through the noxious fumes and roaring strain of the generators’ motors.

As time went by, the fuel for the generators became far too expensive. Additionally, the unclean, locally-refined oil prompted frequent and expensive generator maintenance. In 2017, solar panels in Syria began to supplant generators as locals’ main source of electricity. However, locals did not use solar panels out of ecological concern. People just needed an affordable source of electricity because the fuel to power generators became prohibitively expensive.

The Solar Panel Solution

Locals value the solar panels in Syria despite a high initial investment cost. In interviews with The New York Times, many locals described the panels as “god-sent.” After the initial investment, solar panels are a virtually cost-free source of electricity. Thousands of locals now use solar panels to power their lights and electronics. On cold nights, the power of solar panels provides heat.

The Humanitarian Crisis in Syria

As of March 2021, 13.4 million people require humanitarian aid in Syria, representing about a 20% increase from 2020. In neighboring Jordan, just south of Syria, more than half a million people are living in exile: some in refugee camps, some outside in the elements. In Jordan, almost 80% of Syrian refugees were living under the national poverty line before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

In a March 2021 interview with Reuters, U.N. aid chief, Mark Lowcock, summarized the grim situation in Syria: “Things are getting worse. We’ve had a decade of death, destruction, displacement, disease, dread and despair.” He went on to add, though, that the United Nations was planning its largest-ever response strategy in order to safeguard lives in the region.

Foreign Aid to Syria

According to The New York Times, Germany provided many second-hand solar panels in Idlib. Germany has extended further assistance by pledging around $2 billion to go toward humanitarian aid in Syria. The U.S. and Qatar agreed to provide funding as well, pledging $600 million and $100 million respectively. While Britain’s pledge of around $281 million is lower than its pledge in 2020, the combined global assistance will make a significant difference in the lives of Syrians.

While the situation in Syria remains dire, the world’s eyes are on the region. With aid coming from all around the globe and solar panels lighting up homes in Idlib, there is both light and hope in Northwestern Syria.

Thomas McCall
Photo: Flickr