Solar Parks have the potential to mitigate climate change but relatively little is known of the implications of the required land-use change. It is invisible but we are facing a biodiversity crisis.
Britain, for example, has lost more of its biodiversity than almost anywhere else in western Europe and is among the most nature-depleted countries in the world. There, wildflower meadows have decreased by 97% since the 1930s.
The decline in pollinators, such as bees and butterflies, is particularly worrying. It has an economic as well as environmental impact. According to the UK government, pollinators are thought to be worth around £400m a year to the UK economy.
That is shocking!
Whereas, if deployed and managed strategically, Solar parks can provide benefits to ecosystems alongside low carbon energy. A well-managed solar farm can become a nature reserve for its operational lifetime, resulting in huge benefits for wildlife and biodiversity. Their ecological value is recognized by organizations such as the National Trust, the RSPB, Friends of the Earth, and the Bumblebee Trust.
In several countries, numerous researches are going around the topic.
Efforts are being made in the Netherlands to assess the impact of solar projects on soil quality and biodiversity.
There are indications that well-designed and maintained solar parks may perform better in terms of vegetation, bird life, insects, and other parameters, than areas used for intensive agriculture.
A research team at Chonnam National University in South Korea has looked at how solar power generation could be combined with broccoli and cabbage cultivation. The team found that the shading provided by a PV facility could improve the quality of crops.
The scientists built their agrivoltaic system with bifacial modules at a height of 3.3 meters. They achieved an average power generation per day of 127 kWh during the testing period. They claimed that their approach proved the technical and economic viability of the proposed agrivoltaic solution.
“We found that the taste and the quality of the broccoli were not lower than those of a reference field without the solar array,” they said. “We also found no significant change in functional ingredients and metabolites that affect taste.”
Lancaster University and the University of York are also working on how land used for renewable energy generation can also support biodiversity and farming in this film.
A recent report from Germany’s Federal Association of New Energy Industry suggested the installation of ground-mounted solar plants on derelict land might even raise biodiversity, as such projects could shelter ecological communities. Solar parks have been found to be particularly suitable as summer habitats for amphibians and reptiles. Several bird species were also found in solar fields, in the German study.
The climate and biodiversity crises are strongly linked, and their solutions are interrelated. The recent emergence of two intersecting forces – sustainable finance and tougher biodiversity legislation–could be a turning point for nature, and in particular, the way the industry and the public view solar farms.
Investors and lenders these days are asking more questions about the sustainability and environmental performance of solar assets, and this trend will continue. Improving biodiversity on solar farms will give developers extra kudos with potential investors. Developers that go the extra mile in terms of biodiversity will be rewarded with easier access to finance, in addition to easier access to allows from the local authorities.
Now even the governments seem to be finally waking up to the urgent need to do more to address the catastrophic biodiversity loss we are experiencing. The UK and EU already have legislation in place that protects habitats and species.
Solar farms by their very nature, present the ideal circumstances to allow biodiversity to recover and produce clean energy that helps to regenerate nature.
One can foresee a future where solar farms have evolved from just energy generation facilities into biodiversity hotspots that are leading the recovery of nature in our landscape. And eventually, solar farms five to ten years from now will look and feel quite different from the solar farms of today.