Impact on the landscape

The environmental impact of a  solar power plant must be evaluated considering the entire life cycle and in particular the building stages of the plant, the stage in which the plant is set up and produces energy, and finally the stage when it is no longer used. The impact that derives from the construction of a photovoltaic plant can be compared to the impact generated by the production of any product of a chemical industry. During the manufacture of the panels, in fact, very toxic substances are used, which require particular safety measures in order to protect the workers, the environment and the people living in it. The products that are used vary, depending on the types of panels. For crystalline silicon panels, hydrochloric acid and trichlorosilane are used, while for amorphous silicon panels, silane phosphate and diborane   are used. The substances that are used for the panels that are not made with silicon are even more toxic and polluting than the ones mentioned above. For example to produce the CIS (copper indium selenium) panels hydrogen selenide is used, while for CdTe (cadmium telluride) panels  cadmium is used, which is toxic and cancerogenic, like hydrogen.
However the environmental benefits generated during the life-span of a photovoltaic system (average 20-25 years) are already greatly superior to the damage provoked in the production phases of the panels.
When plant operation comes to a stop, the panels must be treated as special waste, as they contain numerous toxic substances such as lead, cadmium, copper, selenium etc. With regard to the plant operation, the only impact is on the landscape, that varies depending of the type, the extension and the position of the plants. Photovoltaic parks are remarkably large plants, which are usually installed on ground in large open areas, thus subtracting the territory from other uses. The visual impact of  photovoltaic power plants is however less than that of thermoelectric plants or any other large industrial plant. This is essentially due to the fact that the plants are much lower than an industrial plant. The visual impact of small and medium sized plants is surely less than that of a large plant and with some adaptations the photovoltaic and solar panels can be fitted well into the landscape. However  the compatibility of the landscape for each plant must be evaluated. For example the use of photovoltaic panels should be limited in cities of artistic importance, in the historical town centres and in areas with a high naturalistic value. Instead, the marginal areas that are not used should be exploited, such as the roofs of hangars, or areas that must be reclaimed, or installation of panels on the roofs of houses in the urban areas. The architectural integration of the photovoltaic plants in the buildings allows a remarkable reduction of their visual impact. In fact a plant is considered integrated when the photovoltaic modules become structural elements of the building itself, as for example roofs, facades, windows, etc. In this way the photovoltaic panel, from an external element becomes an integral part of the building.

Special reports

From the Multimedia section


  • 16 May 2011

    Bio-climatic architecture

    Solar energy is playing a vital role with reference to bioclimatic architecture...

  • The photovoltaic train

    In Italy the PVTRAIN project by Trenitalia (co-financed by the European Union) plans...

  • The plant of Almeria

    In the Tabernas desert, 30 km north-east of the Andalusia town of Almeria (Spain)...