Solar panels are like magic, turning sunshine into electricity. They are, however, relatively bulky. We own our own home and have 16 of them on our roof, but renters have often complained to me that it isn’t so easy in an apartment building. There is also a danger that they will compete for land with agriculture.
So the turn of the Netherlands to solar power in a big way is instructive, since it is a small country a little larger than Maryland, with limited land for solar farms.
Even so, solar power now generates 14% of Dutch electricity, making it the “unquestionable solar energy leader in Europe,” as Kira Taylor and Sofia Stuart Leeson at Euractiv put it. Moreover, on a per capita basis the Netherlands has more solar power than any other European country. If we were going by total electricity output from solar in absolute terms, Germany is the leader with 68.17 GW of installed solar capacity.
The Netherlands produced 20% more renewable power in 2022 than it had the previous year.
These are astonishing statistics. I like the Netherlands a lot, and have visited on many occasions. It doesn’t strike me, however, as among the sunnier countries. That Spain only gets 12% of its electricity from solar, while the proportion is higher in the Netherlands, is crazy. But it speaks well of the Dutch government and people, who have obviously invested heavily in this technology. As recently as 2015, the country only got 1% of its electricity from solar.
According to Charlotte Elton at Euronews, consumers there put in 1.8 gigawatts of rooftop solar in 2022, spurred on by the high fossil gas prices caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. That is the nameplate capacity of two small nuclear plants, and it is just from people’s roofs.
So where else are the Dutch putting all those panels? They’ve been ingenious. They put panels over landfill sites. They put panels over carports. They put panels over lakes. They put panels over strawberry fields. They find that panels sheltering agricultural fields allow the use of less water for crops.
They have put 500,000 floating panels on the country’s lakes and reservoirs, which cover 20% of the Netherlands. Only China, Euronews points out, has more floating panels. The Netherlands is also planning 3 gigawatts from offshore floating solar farms by 2030. Panels on land have a tendency to overheat in the sun, reducing their electricity generation. By putting them on water, one cools them down, substantially increasing their electricity production.
Editor’s Note: This essay originally appeared on March 26, 2023, on Informed Comment: Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion, a website featuring commentary by Professor Juan Cole. It was reproduced here with the consent of Professor Cole.
Image Credit: Eneco.