The transition to clean energy is in large part a result of the desire to improve the environment.
Siting solar farms on land already in use – such as landfills, building rooftops, and, covered parking – is an innovated way to ensure coexistence with wildlife. It reduces pressure on undeveloped land, animals and plants.
Coexistence in the Mojave Desert
There is no direct connection between the native desert tortoise population reduction and current solar farm development in the Mojave Desert in California. However, scientists from the University of California Davis are working with the National Park Service and the University of Georgia’s Savannah River Ecology Laboratory to determine what can be done when siting solar farms to support growth in the native population of desert tortoises.
Signs of coexistence between solar installations and wildlife are found in some areas. In Nevada, UC Davis post-doctoral scholar Steven Grodsky (himself an academic focused on the intersection of renewables and the environment) observes the 300,000 solar panels of the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System are providing shade for rare milkweed plants where the queen butterfly lays its eggs. The resulting caterpillars eat the plant which “imparts a chemical defense” that makes them unappetizing to birds. (UC Davis: September 2018)
Bees Buzzing about Solar
Research by the Argonne National Laboratory of the US Department of Energy shows solar farmland that allows native wildflowers to grow as pollinator habitats have benefits for local bee colonies, result in higher crop yields on nearby farms, and save on maintenance costs for utilities. This is a solution to a renewable energy need that also helps solve an ecological problem of bee population reductions. (Read more on this Argonne National Laboratory project in our What We’re Reading section)
Solar Siting Guidance – When Land Use is at a Premium
Land use is at even more of a premium in the small State of Rhode Island. There the state’s Office of Energy Resources has developed the Solar Guidance and Model Ordinance Development reports to help state and local officials work through the issues. Click here to see links to those documents. (RI Office of Energy Resources February 2019)
Utility company Entergy New Orleans has made great strides with its solar generation pilot project under construction on empty commercial rooftops. Earlier this year, Entergy reported 2.5 Megawatts of solar-generating capacity was installed on warehouse rooftops, creating power for direct distribution on the electric distribution grid.
The company is working to identify new sites with a focus on buildings with rooftops of 10,000 square feet or more and height of three stories or less. Use of existing rooftops means that additional land is not needed for clean power generation. (Entergy February 2019)
There are many other examples of how renewables and the environment can coexist, and how renewable energy systems are being leveraged to help address environmental concerns. Below are a list of links that you can visit to learn more about what’s happening at the intersection of renewable energy and environmental stewardship:
- In the UK, using solar farms to create habitats for British species: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/mar/07/solar-farms-to-create-natural-habitats-for-threatened-british-species
- Different types of installation methodology helping desert animals (while allowing for native vegetation): https://www.altenergymag.com/article/2016/10/protecting-an-endangered-species-and-a-solar-energy-project/24787/
- Forward-thinking Minnesota law known as ‘The Pollinator Friendly Solar Act’: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/innovation/solar-power-and-honey-bees-180964743/
- Solar panels & the issue of food security at Medium.com: https://medium.com/ensia/how-land-under-solar-panels-can-contribute-to-food-security-229908f8dcbe
- More on solar panels helping both the birds and the bees: http://www.takepart.com/article/2016/03/09/solar-farm-wildlife-habitat-threatened-species
- Considerations and the benefits on siting ahead when building solar: https://www.solarpowerworldonline.com/2019/03/utility-scale-solar-wildlife-stewardship/