Making Solar Energy Land Use More Efficient

How an ‘ecovoltaic’ approach can balance energy production with conservation of sensitive land.

1 minute read

March 20, 2024, 6:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Group of donkeys walking under photovoltaic solar panels in green field.

A herd of donkeys grazes under solar panels. | jeson / Adobe Stock

A team of researchers at Colorado State University is looking at ways to lessen the impacts of solar energy production on the environment and reduce conflicts with animal migration, agriculture, ranching, and conservation.

As Matthew Sturchio explains in Honolulu Civil Beat, “A growing alternative to using land solely for solar power generation is called agrivoltaics. As its name suggests, this strategy combines agriculture and solar power on the same piece of land. Agrivoltaic projects can take place on croplands, grazing lands and habitat for agriculturally important pollinators.”

In some of these cases, the shade thrown by solar panels creates micro-environments that benefit different plant communities. “In some cases, mixed conditions like these, with varying levels of light and water, can be a good thing. A well-tested concept in restoration ecology – the science of restoring damaged ecosystems – is that environments with more variety support more diverse mixes of plants and animals.”

Sturchio notes that the location of power transmission lines and ease of access to them also frequently dictate where solar projects can be placed. “New transmission projects that ease this geographic constraint could provide more options. With greater flexibility in choosing sites, developers could shift away from highly sensitive natural ecosystems and install solar arrays on abandoned, water-limited or otherwise degraded lands instead.”

Friday, March 15, 2024 in Honolulu Civil Beat

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