Solar energy is crucial for a sustainable future, but the current technology requires vast amounts of land, which can disrupt ecosystems. Traditional solar installations have often involved grading the land and using turf grass beneath the panels. However, researchers from Colorado State University are proposing a new approach called “ecovoltaics” that prioritizes both energy production and ecosystem services.
Ecovoltaics combines solar installations with agriculture, similar to the concept of agrivoltaics. However, it goes a step further by considering the design and management of solar arrays in ways that benefit the plants and animals beneath. The goal is to create a sustainable and ecologically informed approach that avoids the environmental oversights of industries like oil and gas.
One key aspect of ecovoltaics is the creation of microenvironments beneath the solar panels. These microenvironments can affect sunlight patterns and rainfall distribution, influencing grassland ecosystem processes. By manipulating array designs, solar energy production can coexist with the preservation of the landscape.
The researchers are conducting studies at Jack’s Solar Garden in Longmont, the largest commercially active site for agrivoltaics research in the U.S. They are investigating how solar panels impact grassland ecosystems and exploring ways to leverage these impacts for desired outcomes. Additionally, they believe that ecovoltaic approaches can contribute to restoring degraded agricultural lands while generating clean energy.
The researchers plan to expand their work at a new facility in Fort Collins, where solar panels will be installed in a native grassland environment. This research aims to discover better ways to use solar energy and minimize negative impacts. Factors such as panel spacing, orientation, and vertical placement during rainstorms will be explored.
Ultimately, the goal of ecovoltaics is to provide a land use solution for a climate solution. The principles and insights gained from this research can guide energy companies in building future installations that prioritize both energy production and ecosystem well-being.
Article: Matthew A. Sturchio et al, Ecovoltaic principles for a more sustainable, ecologically informed solar energy future, Nature Ecology & Evolution, DOI: 10.1038/s41559-023-02174-x
Summary: How can solar energy installations prioritize ecosystems? (2023, September 19) retrieved 19 September 2023 from https://phys.org/news/2023-09-solar-energy-prioritize-ecosystems.html