By Sarah Lozanova, Solar Energy Writer
As solar energy deployment increases, solar farms are becoming bigger than ever before. Large-scale solar farms have ground-mounted solar panels. Therefore, the way developers plan and manage those impacts wildlife and local ecosystems. How can solar professionals minimize the ecological impacts of solar farms?
It is essential to examine this question throughout all phases of solar farm development, from the initial planning phase to decommissioning.
Alternatives to Mowing
It is critical to minimize or eliminate shading on solar panels to boost electricity production. Therefore, many solar farm managers mow around the solar panels with gas-powered mowers and use herbicides. Unfortunately, these produce carbon emissions, burn fossil fuels, and contaminate air quality and water quality.
Using sheep to graze around the solar panels reduces or eliminates the need to mow and apply herbicides. Sheep are excellent at removing vegetation, even between solar panels. This prevents shading without chemicals or gas-powered equipment.
Often, solar farms contain non-native plants or even gravel around the solar panels. This groundcover provides little value to wildlife, especially pollinators. Planting native wildflowers can help reduce the need to irrigate the groundcover, conserving water. Likewise, it gives fodder to pollinators. Once established, this landscape can reduce maintenance, saving money. Also, pollinators can provide a lot of value to farmers. If there are agricultural farms located nearby, native plants can help maintain pollinator populations, which can sometimes help protect crop yields.
Promoting Soil Health
Grazing sheep, cultivating native plants, and not apply herbicides all help maintain soil quality. In fact, soil health is critical for healthy ecosystems and productive farms. Solar farms may become cropland or wilderness areas after the solar farm is decommissioned. Thus, promoting soil health can help promote productive use of the property several decades from now.