An unintended consequence is the unanticipated effect that happens when one tries to fix a problem and then creates another. These consequences often have a positive effect, but sometimes they can be worse that the problem they were trying to fix. One example of an unintended consequence might be the glare reflected from the thousands of solar panels that make up solar farms. But do these panels really cause a glare that could be dangerous for pilots?
Since the inception of solar farms, there have been several complaints filed by pilots with the Aviation Safety Reporting System. In addition, air traffic controllers have filed reports that they hear complaints daily from pilots about the glare from the area around Ivanpah, the world’s largest solar farm, near the California Nevada border. However, in Munich, Germany, where there is an abundance of solar farms and rooftop PV panels, the main thing noticed by pilots is a large amount of blue down below, not glaring reflected sunlight.
Several studies have been conducted to measure the glare created by solar panels within solar farms. The conclusion from all of these studies is that solar panels are well designed to absorb sunlight and reflect very little. Only a small amount of light, approximately 2%, is typically reflected. The glare analysis that was conducted on the Ivanpah solar farm concluded that there was a slight potential for “after image or flash glare” which is similar to the reflection seen from bodies of water. By comparison, this amount of glare is less than the reflection seen coming off white concrete or snow.
Is glare an unintended consequence of solar farms? The evidence indicates that it is not. It is more of an intended consequence of the media reporting a few complaints and sensationalizing them to make an interesting story.