Solar-Powered Honey: How Agrivoltaics Can Help Restore Pollinators
The plight of pollinators.
Climate change and human development have greatly impacted large varieties of plants and animals. From big to small, no species has been entirely safe from the consequences of our actions.
Pollinators, in particular, have seen a large decline over the past twenty years. As habitat loss has accelerated, climate change has affected historical ranges, and pesticides have become more common.
While most pollinators are quite small, they greatly impact all of us as they help disperse pollen, allowing plants to reproduce.
As land use has contributed to habitat loss for these pollinators, there has been considerable opposition to introducing solar panels and arrays to areas with considerable numbers of these small creatures.
This brings agriculture proponents into an uneasy alliance with ecological activists, as agriculture proponents also don’t want their profits to decline as land is used for a different purpose.
However, a solution to both of these issues can be found in agrivoltaics, which is a promising alternative to single-use solar arrays.
Minnesota is showing an alternative.
Pollinators living alongside solar systems have found significant promise in Minnesota, USA. A 2016 law set up the Habitat Friendly Solar program, which incentives property developers and solar companies to build arrays with benefits for songbirds and pollinators.
This is in stark contrast to solar development in the 2000s. As a result of the high price at the time of solar panels, solar companies sought to cut costs anywhere they could. As a result, in their solar installations, they put in gravel instead of flowers or field grass due to the price being lower.
However, due to new research, solar developers have found that vegetation creates a cooling microclimate that benefits energy efficiency. They have since been putting in clover and other field grasses under and alongside their panels, but even now, they are putting in higher-rising flowers.
Connexus is a solar cooperative that has been operating in Minnesota, and have said that “It started with our headquarters solar array — initially designed to utilize class 5 gravel under and around the panels, we worked with Connexus member Prairie Restorations to design a low-growing, flowering meadow under and around the panels.”
These changes also have other ecological benefits, as some environmental advocates are promoting the planting of the native northern tallgrass prairie, which has declined to represent 1% of the land in the US since European settlement.
This could change the solar industry as a whole.
These changes to how solar arrays are installed represent a significant alliance between solar developers, natural conservation groups, and agriculture advocates.
These changes are a branch of agrivoltaics that advocates combining solar arrays and agriculture. These developments show that agriculture, pollinator habitat restoration, and solar energy are not mutually exclusive.
It is possible to have the best of these worlds combined, and it is, in fact, beneficial to all parties involved. The solar panels provide shade for specific species of plants and animals that are better suited to being out of the sun for part of the time, and the plants enhance solar panel efficiency.
In the transition to solar energy, it’s incredibly important that the development isn’t harmful to existing food production and ecology goals.
Source Happy Eco NewsJune 16, 2023