SolarZukunft: Evaluating the social and visual impacts of distributed solar energy transitions in land and cityscapes

by C. Jones and P. Dale

To better understand social preferences, the Solar Living Lab develops camouflaged Photovoltaics (PV) and evaluates them using AR & city models. 

Future renewable energy systems will noticeably change the appearance of our land and cityscapes. There will be a massive shift from predominantly invisible fossil fuel production infrastructures, which currently takes up ∼0.3% of land surface, to a photovoltaic (PV) and wind infrastructure accounting for ∼3 to 6% of land area in Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands small to medium-sized countries. These land-use changes present new challenges and are often met with adverse public discourse, related to visual, social and environmental impacts entwined with the social-cultural values citizens attach to places. Our project will provide a framework for understanding how the renewable energy transition could be better accepted and what factors will improve the likelihood of acceptance.

Our hypothesis states that PV panels that fit with the look and feel of the local land/cityscapes will improve social acceptance, but this bring about challenges of: (1) how to develop coloured patterned PV panels that are camouflaged within their surroundings and yet maintain their energy yield ; (2) how to involve community stakeholders in the design of new energy environments within the preconditional boundaries required to generate a certain amount of energy in different neighbourhoods.

To test our hypothesis, we propose to investigate: (1) how to fabricate colour images with different resolutions using liquid crystals on PV panels with negligible performance loss ; (2) to evaluate the scaled-up results directly with stakeholders and citizens. We will build geospatial models for different options of PV installations at the neighbourhood scale, which will be evaluated via city models / augmented reality technology with citizens and stakeholders (researchers, energy sector representatives, housing and development decision makers, and local planners) within our SolarZukunft Living Lab.

Whilst using an embedded place-based theory with a social acceptance evaluation framework we will assess which PV scenarios are preferred and how they could be spatially distributed in a neighbourhood to reach a specific level of energy yield. From our results, we will be able to inform spatial planning processes on the visual and social impact of the renewable energy transition and support community visioning for the future.
Our research will provide scientists, decision-makers and citizens a head start on understanding the social, environmental and economic impacts of a distributed PV energy transition on our urban and rural landscapes.

If you would like to join our living lab please contact or

Prof. Catherine JONES

Prof. Phillip DALE