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Evaluating the potential impacts of solar farms on hydrological responses

Published by the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers, St. Joseph, Michigan

Citation:  2022 ASABE Annual International Meeting  2201262.(doi:10.13031/aim.202201262)
Authors:   Adira Ajith Nair, Rohith A N, Cibin Raj, Lauren E McPhillips
Keywords:   Solar farms, SWMM, hydrology, land-use change

Abstract. With the demand for green energy rapidly increasing, solar energy as a renewable energy source is expanding across the world. Implementing solar energy on a large scale requires solar farm installation on land covering hundreds of acres of area. Solar farms also change the existing land use and affect the hydrological response of the catchment. However, the impact of solar farms on catchment hydrology is not well understood, in part due to the lack of established modelling methods tailored to their unique land cover. The areas over which solar panels are installed are impervious on the panel and pervious underneath it, making it challenging to model. In this study, a framework is proposed to model the hydrological response of a solar farm using EPA SWMM. The framework split each row of the solar farm into four sections, the impervious solar panel, a wet section at the dripline that captures the majority of runoff from the panel, a spacer section that encompasses the space between the solar panel rows, and an under-panel section which represents the space under the solar panel. The runoff from one section is routed to the next section in the order of natural water flow. All these sections represent one row of the solar farm, so the runoff from each row is then routed to the next row until the outlet. With this general setup, many variables such as land cover, the slope of land and solar panel, panel width, rainfall events can be easily modified to understand the effect on hydrology for specific scenarios. This relatively simple framework can improve our ability to represent the hydrological response of a catchment before and after the installation of solar farms and can serve as preliminary tool for planning purpose.

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