Despite global clean energy gains produced from the construction of utility-scale solar farms, much criticism has landed on the possible destruction that can occur to the large areas of land used when acres upon acres of solar panels are installed. To minimize the negative impacts, developers are working hard to engineer sites with the potential to stimulate agricultural biodiversity and to produce quality renewable energy. By managing these considerably sized solar farms symbiotically as pollinator-friendly habitats, local economies and land can blossom. How can more biodiverse solar farms be accomplished?
One of the most effective ways for developers to mitigate the impact of solar farms is to use the surrounding land as a pollinator-enhancing habitat. The habitat is created by the planting of native, low-growing, shade and drought tolerant wildflowers and grasses both under the solar panels (the array area) and around the panels (the buffer area).
What benefits can be seen from the development of pollinator smart solar farms The diverse growth can help improve stormwater control, will help reduce land erosion, and most importantly will aid in attracting a varied array of pollinator species that will naturally enhance the amount of native plant life in the area. The native flora can also help to decrease the amount of heat kicked off by the solar panels themselves, creating a counterbalancing cooling effect, thus helping to keep surface areas at lower temperatures. The plants themselves have a natural ability to sequester carbon, which will only aid in making the solar farm carbon neutral.
More plants mean more pollinator species (bees, wasps, bats, birds, beetles, flies, moths, and butterflies) will be attracted to the area. These pollinators play an integral role in creating biodiversity, increasing reproduction of plant species by 80-90%, and can also be beneficial in encouraging agricultural productivity for nearby farmers by about 70% and increasing endangered bee populations.
Another way for pollinator-friendly solar farms to vary their land use is to allow for sheep grazing. Sheep are ideal as they are short enough to not shade the panels and are less destructive in comparison to other livestock. The solar farm can then double as a grazing pastureland that would help eliminate the need for regular mowing or herbicide use.
As scientists study the positive effects of solar farm cohabitation by building more biodiverse solar farms, we at Bridgelink Power look forward to implementing these techniques in more of our own solar projects.