Hectares of solar panels to power a chemical plant
A Solvay facility in the Netherlands plans to generate its own green energy
Solvay’s plant in Linne Herten, in the southeastern corner of the Netherlands, a stone’s throw from the German and Belgian borders, produces mostly peroxide-based disinfectants and a catalyst AQ. This is a historical industrial installation, with an original factory founded in 1936. Needless to say, parts of it were no longer up to date at the turn of the 21st century, and in 2000, a bunch of disused buildings were demolished. This cleared a 60,000 square meter lot of land next to the modern-day installation, still belonging to Solvay.
What to do with all that space? The teams at Linne Herten initially looked to attract different types of activities there – warehouses, a plastics recycling plant… – but no agreement was reached. “And then in 2017, we thought: ‘how about solar panels?’,” says Peter Otten, the site manager. “It was the perfect solution to take on our environmental responsibility and contribute to reducing the Group’s overall emissions” as outlined in the Solvay One Planet sustainability roadmap.
Environmentally and financially sound electricity supply
Technically, legally and financially, building a solar farm is a complex undertaking requiring skills that don’t have much in common with running a chemical plant. “We wanted a partner who would build and operate the solar panels on our land for us, because that’s just not our job,” says Peter with a smile.
Dutch solar system installer KiesZon was selected. The next steps (securing a building permit and subsidies from Dutch authorities and drafting long-term contracts for land lease and electricity supply) were successively carried out, and early 2020, the first of 22,300 solar panels were installed. In August, Linne Herten’s 6,500 MWh solar farm will be fully operational, providing 40% of the plant’s electricity needs and reducing its energy-related C02 emissions by approximately 17%.
In addition to obvious environmental benefits, this project also makes financial sense. Thanks to the fact Solvay leases its land to KiesZon, that the power purchased back from them is tax-free (because it’s produced on the consumer’s own land) and that there is no energy transport to speak of, at the end of the day, the plant will save money compared to when it had to buy all its electricity from the grid.
All in all, going for solar panels instead of warehouses seems to be a choice crowned with complete success. But Peter admits his team couldn’t have done it alone. “We were the ones who initiated the project, but we received support from the Solvay group, its Peroxides Business Unit and the Group’s legal and Energy teams, which was crucial because there were 15-year land lease and power supply contracts to write up!”
Installing a solar farm was the perfect solution to take on our environmental responsibility and contribute to reducing Solvay’s overall emissions.
Solar power from Northern Europe
Technically speaking, only one-third of the solar farm is directly connected to the plant; the rest feeds into the general grid, providing enough electricity to power 1,500 households. The reason for this is that the electricity produced cannot be stored; it has to be absorbed immediately. Yet on a sunny day, the production is simply too high: 33% of the farm is enough to cover 100% of the plant’s power needs. Conversely, on cloudy days and at night, production drops, which explains why evened out over a full year, 60% of the facility’s power will still have to be purchased from the market.
That being said, new generation solar panels are much more efficient than they used to be, making it worthwhile to build solar farms at latitudes such as that of the Netherlands. In fact, this is Solvay’s second solar power project in Europe, the other one being at a quarry in Walcourt in neighboring Belgium.