If you take a walk between the growers’ fields in Boskoop, you only walk a decimeter above the surface of the countless ditches. This is not far from the lowest point in the Netherlands, in the southwest of the Green Heart. Peter Captein has been growing trees and flowering plants in this area since the seventies. In recent years, the floods have become increasingly severe for him and his colleagues in the area, he says. He even spends more on water damage restoration like what people have in Temecula.
Difficult years for growers
“The other day in 2018, when you saw the flower pots floating around in the fields. It was quite a mess, terrible. Then you get root rot and you have to throw those plants away,” says Captein. “It doesn’t go that far every year. But even if it rains heavily for one day, the aisles flood. No meteorologist can predict when that will happen.” In short, in recent years there has been no question of a relaxed existence for the grower. “I had just turned sixty in that period and did not yet have a successor for my company. And wondered how long I had to continue with this heavy work.”
You didn’t have to. Through the municipality of Alphen aan den Rijn, Captein came into contact with two sustainable entrepreneurs who were looking for a new project. Their motto: creating a sustainable living environment for communities throughout the Netherlands.
A floating solar park: handy in the sun and in the rain
Three years later, the plans have become reality. Part of Captein’s land has become a large puddle on which a floating solar park shimmers. No more plants that require heavy work every day, but a green energy generator. The water is about a meter deep on a dry day; in the case of heavy showers, it can rise another meter. Then the water flows in from the surrounding ditches that are connected to the basin.
Making the municipality climate neutral
Captein leases the three-hectare solar park to Zonnevijver Boskoop Project BV. Here, 7,700 panels generate enough electricity to cover the annual electricity needs of a thousand households. In addition, the park, with a capacity of 3.4 MWp, helps the municipality to become climate neutral.
“The double use of space is the great thing about this project. The fact that we had a puddle excavated and in this way created new water storage – and then installed solar panels on it, that is unique in the Netherlands,” says Willem de Lint, entrepreneur in the solar and wind sector.
New business model
The floating solar park in Boskoop also stands out because it does not stand out. By digging out a lowering in the ground, you will only see the panels when you stand next to them. “People don’t always think windmills or solar panels look good and the installations don’t fit into the landscape. We also wanted to do that differently with this project,” says De Lint, who graduated in ecology and landscape architecture.
By digging away the existing soil, a ‘completely new business model has emerged on this piece of land’, says De Lint’s business partner Casper Wissink: “A model that is also more future-proof than floriculture.”
Loan ASN Groenprojectenfonds
Since the summer of 2021, the park has been connected to the energy grid. The fact that the entrepreneurs would sell the electricity and have a profitable business model was a requirement for the ASN Groenprojectenfonds to provide a loan. With an investment of 2.2 million euros, the fund finances the lion’s share of the park, such as panels, cabling, and the anchors that ensure that the panels do not blow away.
The excavation of the lake is at the expense of the landowner Captein. If you can store enough water in case of rain and thunderstorms, you will receive a subsidy for emergency shelter. The new pond can absorb an additional 30,000 cubic meters in the event of flooding. In this way, the lake reduces the flood risk of the surrounding tree nurseries.
For Zonnevijver Boskoop there was only one floating solar park in the Netherlands. The technology is quite new and you don’t know exactly how weatherproof the park will be, says Rosemarijn van der Meij, fund manager ASN Groenprojectenfonds.
“The risks are higher than with an ordinary solar park. Because the panels float on pontoons, the water and wind can cause unforeseen wear and tear. But that was no reason for us not to invest.”
According to the fund manager, the park serves both the climate and the people in the area. “In a place that is very low, flooding is a major problem for residents and entrepreneurs. These types of projects make the growers more future-proof. The new emergency shelter is also a good solution for the water board.”
For financing, De Lint and Wissink also turned to other large banks. “There you see a big difference, they have a lot of clauses and want to know exactly what your return will be,” says De Lint, who has been investing in green energy projects for fifteen years. “At ASN, they have a track record of this type of investment. So they have a better understanding of what the risks are in practice and how you can cover them. That’s why we gained confidence in each other.”
ASN Groenprojectenfonds considers it important that energy projects also promote biodiversity. In this way, too, the energy park in Boskoop is interesting; it is unique in the sense that the basin has been specially excavated for the floating panels.
Fund manager Van der Meij: “It is difficult to calculate the contribution of a project to biodiversity in advance, but we assume that valuable nature will arise at the edges of the pond. What is going to grow? Our hope is that researchers will soon draw interesting conclusions.”