Solar Plays Well with Others: How Solar Farms are Sharing and Saving the Land

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While large CSP plants experience troubles with attracting birds into their concentrated heat areas, solar PV farms bring benefits for a variety of flora and fauna. A new report from the BRE National Solar Centre in England highlights some of the ways that solar PV farms can provide new life to other species.

Last week, the BRE National Solar Centre in England published a report on how solar farms are increasing biodiversity. In fact, solar farms may be the key to increasing the world’s honeybee population, which has been in decline in recent years. 

According to the report, solar farms typically use only 5% of the land they are built on, leaving a lot of space for other uses. Dr. Guy Parker, ecologist and author of the report, has outlined a wide range of plans to develop the remaining land into refuges for wildlife and plantings. This guide was published in partnership with The National Trust, RSPB, Plantlife, Bumblebee Conservation Trust, Eden Project, Buglife, Wychwood Biodiversity, Wiltshire Wildlife Trust, and the Solar Trade Association (STA).

Solar arrays provide a unique blend of heat and shade that many species need. According to the report, “A number of options exist for enhancing biodiversity on solar farms, from hedgerows to field margins to wildflower meadows to bird boxes and ponds. Each site is unique and there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution. Ultimately the best plans will be those developed through engagement with the local community, the landowner and local and national conservation organisations.”

Of particular interest might be bumblebees, whose habitats have been lost, with their population declining at an alarming rate. Solarcentury, a British Solar Company, and The Bumblebee Conservation Trust are partnering to provide habitats conducive to the development of bee population growth, a strategy that could be implemented in the U.S. as well.

Frans van den Heuvel, CEO of Solarcentury, commented, “Whenever we develop a solar park, we plant acres of wildflower meadows with native seed mixes that are specifically designed to attract a diversity of wildlife.” According to the Solarcentruy website, “All Solarcentury solar parks have wildflower meadows planted around them, designed to stimulate biodiversity by creating conditions that are attractive to a wide variety of birds, butterflies and bumblebees.”

In the U.S., another alternative for mixed use of solar farms is taking place in North Carolina. Slow Money reports that solar companies began to notice that the area around their solar panels was growing weeds. To tackle this problem in an economical manner, they have begun employing sheep to eat the excess. Solar sheep farming  has begun to take root in North Carolina, in an example of what has been dubbed solar double cropping. Solar companies such as O2 Energies hire local sheep farmers to have their sheep mow the area around the arrays. This provides a multiple economic benefit to the farmers: they get paid by the solar companies to hire their sheep, they save money on feed for their sheep, and then they can sell their grass-fed sheep at a higher price.

At Piedmont Biofuels, another North Carolina Company, the panels are being raised so that traditional farming can take place beneath them. Miraverse Power and Light, Piedmont Biofuels, Southern Energy Management, and Piedmont Biofarm pioneered the idea of “Solar Double Cropping” at Piedmont Biofarms in Pittsboro, North Carolina.

Another term for this process is agrivoltaics. Last month we reported about the mixed use of solar panels and agave for biofuel. Perhaps this technique will be taken up by tequila producers as well.

As more and more of these projects begin to sprout up, the benefits of solar will be exponentially increased. Shine on.