Grey/brown field land re-purposing -- by Patricia Laddich

Globally, an increasing number of countries and cities are committed to becoming more economically, environmentally and socially sustainable. However, most of these countries face unrelenting economic challenges that sabotage efforts to make progress towards sustainable goals. Some of these communities have suffered decades of job losses as well as decline in population which has left them with high numbers of vacant properties, such as abandoned houses, former industrial sites or shuttered shopping malls. Although, these properties will eventually be redeveloped, alternate reuse options may be the best solution for the large number of greyfields and brownfields. (See glossary)
Out of all the viable reuse alternatives, solar energy development is one of the most promising. In fact, public officials, planners and policy advocates have identified renewable energy projects as possible tactics for managing previously developed but vacant land. And developers can play a vital role in helping their communities review and embrace solar energy development and management of vacant land. This is why the recovery of unproductive brownfields has become a key subject for federal, state, and local governments as well as for law firms and real estate developers. Many polluted brownfield sites have remained unproductive for several years due to the high cost of cleaning and uncertainties surrounding these sites. In recent years, many programs have been launched to assist planners interested in cleaning up brownfield sites and redeveloping them for productive use.
Why Solar Energy?
Unlike other sources of renewable energy, solar energy is relatively popular because they are more adaptable to site constraints and also due to the incidence of the solar resource in many districts. Regardless of where the energy is used either sold to the grid or on site; solar redevelopment reduces the emission of greenhouses gases as well as the demand for fossil fuels. Moreover in communities with a higher percentage of vacant lands and properties, solar installations improve appearances and reduce blight. Solar construction and installation also has the benefit of boosting the local economy by creating green-collar jobs, and in cases where a solar redevelopment project involves clearing-out a polluted site, it has advantage of improving the natural environment and decreasing risks to public health. Reusing already contaminated land for solar project redevelopment reduces the pressure to build solar projects in desert habitat, open spaces, or on farmland. “Brownfields” exemplify an opportunity to invest in solar projects without having to worry about the environmental impacts. Going solar also has the added benefits of generating huge savings and facilitating the quicker adoption of renewable energy. Consider some of the outstanding projects in different parts of the country:
  • Chicago - Exelon City urban solar plant is the largest in the United States. It was developed on an industrial site that has been vacant for almost three decades. The solar plant enhances the beauty of the community, creates jobs, generates clean energy and bolsters economic development.

  • Nevada – The Air Force Base in Nellis Nevada developed a solar plant that is intended to supply more than a quarter of the base’s energy. This solar plant is the largest on any US military base.
Identifying Potential Sites
The most important prerequisite for solar redevelopment in different location is access to sunlight, and there are some factors that can impact this access to sunlight. Generally, the regional climate and latitude determines the gross quality and quantity of sunlight available. On-site and nearby topographic features, building, tress can also significantly limit the light penetration on a specific site.
On a large scale, the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) provides state and national maps that indicate the variability in the quality of solar resource varies across large areas. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory's (NREL) also provide an online PV Watts calculator that estimates the monthly and annual energy production based on system characteristics and user-selected location. Apart from these tools, Google has also created an initiative to help identify sites that are suitable for solar installations. This project is referred to as Project Sunroof. Project Sunroof leverages the visual data from Google Maps to create 3D models of the amount of sunlight that falls on a roof. To ensure the data provided is accurate, the tool considers the relative positions of the sun at different times of the year, the weather pattern as well as physical obstructions such as tall buildings and trees. This data can help users to estimate whether or not it will be beneficial to install a solar panel on their roof and see how much solar power they can generate if they choose to install the solar panel. Project Sunroof can also give you the percentage of buildings (both residential and commercial) that are solar-viable, the average roof space and total C02 reduction viability as well as the total electrical generating capacity. According to an insightful statistics from Google’s Project Sunroof relating to solar energy opportunities in the US, more than 80% of all rooftops analyzed are technically viable for solar. This indicates that those rooftops have sufficient unshaded area for solar panels installation.
Bottom line
The concept of reusing land for solar energy projects has become more popular in recent years. Solar redevelopment can reduce environmental pollution and limit the demand on fossil fuels especially in communities with surplus of brownfields or greyfields. However, due to the huge capital investment required for solar equipment as well as the hazards associated with contamination on brownfield properties, potential developers may be reluctant to redevelop such properties. Therefore there’s need for countries and cities to address probable obstacles at each step of the redevelopment process. Public officials and planners thus have the chance to help their communities develop ideas for supporting solar development and then formulate regulations, programs and incentives to implement these visions.
Brownfield – This is a property which the redevelopment, reuse or expansion may be complicated by presence or possible presence of a contaminant, pollutant or hazardous substance. According to estimates, there are about 450,000 brownfields in the United States.
Greyfield – This is the term used for a large structure such as a commercial facility, shopping mall that has been vacant for years. This empty structure provides home to insects, rodents and other creatures. In the United States and Canada, greyfield land is economically underused real estate assets or land.

Grey/brown field land re-purposing -- by Patricia Laddich Grey/brown field land re-purposing -- by Patricia Laddich Reviewed by kensunm on 7:00:00 PM Rating: 5

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