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Climate Change – Mitigation and Adaptation: GIS decision making exercise: building a solar farm

Download this resource as a pdf.

Minimum time required

45 minutes

Learning objectives

  • To use a GIS designed for stakeholders in the energy sector to gather information about potential energy production for a proposed development.
  • Students will be aware that the need for sustainable developments such as renewable energy are often ‘weighed up’ against the need of other developments (in this case, affordable housing).
  • To give reasoned and substantiated arguments to reach a decision on whether to build a solar PV farm using information from a variety of sources.

Resources needed

Methodology and teacher’s notes

This DME is based on real places with completed or planned developments. Some simplifications and changes have been made in order to make a complex interconnected issue more accessible for learning, while giving accurate representation of the issue and the people involved. For example, the two developments are not as explicitly linked as they have been in this DME, although the local residents have mentioned both in their objections to the solar PV farm being built. All sources are given in the References, sources and credits section. It is also structured in a way that can help students become familiar with the structure of the decision-making element of a GCSE Geography exam (specifically AQA GCSE Paper 3).

  1. Hand out Figure 1 (preferably printed A3), Figure 2 and the worksheet/question paper to students. Spend 5 to 10 minutes discussing the information on Figure 1 and the introduction to the issue on page one of the worksheet.
  2. Students visit the ‘Global Solar Atlas’. This is where the image at bottom-left of Figure 1 has come from. You can allow them a few minutes of ‘free play’ to familiarise themselves with the GIS, but step-by-step instructions are given on their worksheets.
  3. With your guidance (see below and the mark scheme), students to complete questions 1–5.
  4. For any students stuck with the step-by-step instructions for Q2, this may be helpful to support them:


  1. Students should search:
    Deal Ground: N 52.6189 E 1.3185
  • Trowse Solar PV Farm: N 52.6065 E 1.3190
  1. Correct selections:
  • Deal Ground: Small residential
  • Trowse Solar PV Farm: Ground-mounted large scale
  1. Correct selections:
  • Deal Ground: 2 kWp, leading to the answer 1.932 MWh per year
  • Trowse Solar PV Farm: 5000 kWp, leading to the answer 4.866 GWh per year
  1. 932 ÷ 1000 = 0.001932 GWh per year.
  2. Since 670 dwellings are planned for Deal Ground, then 001932 x 670 = 1.294 GWh per year
  3. Deal Ground: 1.294 ÷ 20 acres = 0.0647 GWh per year per acre; Trowse Solar PV Farm: 4.866 ÷ 22 acres = 0.2212 GWh per year per acre


Students can finish the questions at home if they do not have time in class, but do consider discussing the issue and student’s opinions afterwards. You can also engage in further debates using the information from this DME, such as considering whether all new housing developments should, by law, have solar systems installed.

Further challenge and extension (alternative DMEs on wind farms)

Alternative DME (wind) 1: If you would like students to complete a decision-making exercise on siting a wind farm, here is a legacy resource also available via The GA website: What a lot of wind: Wind energy decision making assignment (Noel Jenkins). This activity asks students to select a suitable site for a new wind farm using Google Earth and a number of other data sources. The activity can be tweaked in many different ways to meet the needs of different abilities.

Alterative DME (wind) 2: Aegis3 Wind Farm Decision Making GIS (Kit Rackley). Students use a legacy GIS package and a step-by-step guide to decide on where to build a wind farm. You will need the Aegis3 GIS package installed on your school’s systems to utilise the full activity, but you can still perform a simple DME without the GIS package using just the ‘INFO CARD’ and ‘REPORT’ documents. These two documents alone could make for a suitable homework task.

References, sources and credits:

Deal Ground Development, Norwich (all internet sources accessed 20th July 2020):

Trowse Newton Solar PV Farm (all internet sources accessed 20th July 2020):

Other/stakeholder information:

View the other lessons in this series:

Access this unit’s homepage.

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