How the Coronavirus crisis impacts the construction of our largest solar farm in the Netherlands

Like most of the world, our team in the Netherlands has tried to make the best of the bizarre changes our society is experiencing since the Coronavirus came to our shores. Our offices are empty, and the only way we can communicate with our colleagues is via phone and video conference. But the effects are most stark at our construction sites.

This blog takes us to Vlagtwedde, which is on track to be the largest solar farm in the Netherlands, and is due for completion this summer. It may cover an area of 120 hectares, but it has still been a challenge to adjust to the ‘one and a half metre’ regulations. Guus Daamen is a project manager on site and explains what effect the pandemic has had, and the challenges it’s brought.

Overnight, all changed

The announcement by Dutch Prime Minister Rutte that the Netherlands was going into an intelligent lockdown and that social distancing must be followed, created a serious dilemma – you cannot install solar panels on your own.

“My colleague Thijs Martens and I immediately joined forces and discussed with our team how we could design the construction site to become corona-proof,” says Guus.

The first measures that were implemented with immediate effect were based around sanitisation, and taken from the Coronavirus Protocol provided by the Dutch Construction Sector; a large gazebo was erected to ensure social distancing could be maintained during lunch breaks and meetings, all cabins were removed, extra toilet trucks were installed and everything gets cleaned more regularly to ensure .

Guus explains: “The entire site required extra strategies to be implemented so that employees can operate in accordance with RIVM guidelines (Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment).

“Only crucial construction meetings still go ahead, and mainly in the open air to ensure best ventilation. We’ve appointed a Coronavirus Manager on site to ensure all regulations are followed. Installation of the solar panels has been postponed as the heavy modules need a few people to work closely together for an extended period of time, since there are thousands of them! However, with such a huge project there’s still plenty of preparatory tasks to be working on until regulations relax, when we can focus on the panels.

“The pandemic has drawn attention to the energy transition, beyond clean power to a Green New Deal across Europe and beyond; a means of building resilience against future crises – particularly climate chaos and species loss. At Solarcentury we’re pressing ahead and will continue to develop and build solar, whist protecting our people and suppliers.”

Travelling employees

A common hindrance to business during this crisis is access to materials, but Guus says at Vlagtwedde the main challenge for our employees has been travel.: “People come from various European countries, each with different regulations relating to travel. We did have logistics to overcome there but we got through it. It may have caused delays but with some careful management we’ve made sure it hasn’t jeopardised the overall schedule.”

The current view of Vlagtwedde

It’s a sunny day on site today, not the first we’ve had this spring. In recent months the sun has been working overtime – Guus has felt the effects first-hand: “We are in a position to see the extreme weather events here on site – overcome with floods during the winter, now there’s dust. But the recent bright skies have their obvious advantages, allowing us to make up for those winter delays.”

Guus also explains that Vlagtwedde is the first Solarcentury project to be approved in collaboration with grid operator, Enexis, under the new European regulation Requirements for Generators. Projects generating electricity, such as solar farms, are tested by the network operator on a set of electrical requirements prior to commissioning. “It’s a new way of working with electricity which has been fascinating” says Guus, “When the grid experiences supply failures, the grid operators can connect directly to Vlagtwedde to provide backup electricity.” It is an important milestone, for the security and consistency of supply to homes and businesses, as well as for Enexis and Solarcentury.

Building on a challenge

Guus had anticipated that building the largest solar farm in the Netherlands would have its challenges, but the pandemic has taken this a step further. He’s positive and pragmatic, and is surrounded by a passionate team: “I enjoy being on site, the combination of tranquillity and construction, being alone yet witnessing the weekly growth of the farm, it’s very satisfying.” It’s clear that Guus and the team won’t let anything stop them on their mission to bring clean power to the Netherlands.