Solar on landfills is seeing a major boost in many places across the country. States like Maryland, New Jersey, and New York, are encouraging or incentivizing the repurposing of closed landfills, also known as brownfields, to generate clean, renewable energy while minimizing the environmental impact of these often otherwise unusable sites. 

In this clip from the Solar Development on Brownfields & Landfills course taught by the expert team at LaBella Associates, we learn what landfills are exactly and what makes them great candidates for solar projects. Enroll for free today to get a great overview of developing brownfields into productive solar sites.

 So what is a landfill? A landfill is an engineered facility for disposing of solid waste in a manner that protects the public health and the environment. 

Landfills provide safe disposal. They manage disposal byproducts to protect the public health and the environment. They do this in three different ways. 

  1. They monitor for a groundwater  and the issue there is leaching or water that passes through waste tends to pick up some of the nutrients and some of the chemicals that are in that waste, so they monitor for groundwater all around these facilities. 
  2. They also monitor surface waters for the same leachate, but also storm water contamination from sediment, as well as litter. 
  3. They also monitor and sample and sometimes collect landfill gas that would be going into the air.

 So they’re really a three phase environmental control on these facilities that we place the waste in. What that does is it minimizes the impact to our neighbors and  it also provides for long term care at these facilities. The facilities are all required to maintain 30 years of post closure care and maintenance,   so that they become a potential renewable energy source, not just for solar, but also landfill gas to energy as well. 

The basic building blocks of the landfill, I like to think of it as you build this engineered system and it acts like a Ziploc bag. Essentially you’ll line  underneath and you line over the top, and that waste and the environmental concern is contained within that system. 

So how we develop that system, there’s generally four different parts of a landfill. 

  • So you have your final cover (or your cap), which is what you’re going to – if you use landfills for solar development – that’s what you’re going to be placing your solar panels on. 
  • You also have a working face, which is where you dispose of the waste inside the landfill.
  • Below that waste, you have a leachate collection system to pull the liquid that’s out of there and go and treat it at a wastewater treatment plant. 
  • Then below that collection system, you have a composite liner system that prevents those liquids from getting into the groundwater, into the existing ground around it.  

So why does solar work so well on landfills? 

One, landfills are large open spaces. They don’t have the tree coverage. They typically have good sight lines to the south in the Northern hemisphere where you have the best direct sun. They’re typically not used after closure. They’re just open space. And they are required to maintain the facility as part of the landfill regulatory responsibility.

So they work really well in that way.