- Leveraging land occupied by solar energy facilities to create pollinator habitats
- These pollinator habitats give bees land they otherwise lose to development
- Placing solar-based pollinator habitats in agricultural areas increases crop yield
The Argonne National Laboratory, a multi-disciplinary science and engineering center with an eye on everything from environmental protection to figuring ways to reduce the cost of clean energy, have discovered a clever way to approaching two environmental challenges.
Solar panels and bees may not seem to go together, but solar energy may play a part in saving the bees. At first pass one immediately thinks “how?” – if for no other reason than that typically one doesn’t see a connection between large solar farms and a honeybee.
In most cases Utility-scale solar energy facilities are filled with gravel or turf, the thought is: why not simply allow native plant species (prairie grass, wildflowers, etc.) to grow naturally on the land occupied by solar farms – and create a pollinator habitat?
Solar Energy Advantages for Bees
By leveraging the solar energy facility land as pollinator habitats for bees to use, some exciting advantages were identified. On top of giving bees a space to work, live, and thrive – any adjacent crops would see a significant yield increase by the added bee population. From a business perspective, these pollinator habitats could reduce long-term maintenance costs for utilities. Allowing these native wildflowers to simply grow would results in a reduction in the total cost to maintain the gravel or turf at the facility.
The trifecta here (land the bees can work in, higher crop yields, and reducing the maintenance cost for a solar site) represents an ingenious way by which solving a renewable energy need also solves an ecological problem.
This interactive map shows the amount of existing and planned utility-scale solar energy facilities by state. It also shows the amount of agriculture that depends on pollinators near those sites. Click to explore. (Map by Argonne National Laboratory.)