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Pollinators can benefit from the expansion of solar energy

The expansion of solar energy can be shaped to benefit pollinators, according to new research. The experts have identified many ways that bees and other pollinators could gain from the strategic development of solar parks across Europe. 

“Land use change for solar parks could cause further degradation of our environment but, if done well, offers much potential to improve our environment,” said Dr. Alona Armstrong of Lancaster University.

“If we transition well, we could use energy system decarbonization to also address the ecological crisis. Given where we are, can we afford not to?”

Renewable energy sources such as solar photovoltaic (PV) take out much more space than fossil fuels. The study shows that, with careful planning, the deployment of clean energy could actually help pollinators instead of hurting them. 

Pollinators like bees, wasps, beetles, and butterflies play a key role in food production, with around 75 percent of the leading global food crops depending on them to some degree.

For the Lancaster study, a team of environmental scientists systematically reviewed the available evidence on how land management practices relating to solar parks could enhance pollinator biodiversity in Northwest Europe.

The researchers have outlined ten evidence-based ways to protect and even enhance pollinator biodiversity. The strategies range from planting wildflowers to connecting solar parks to nearby habitats.

Solar parks can produce large amounts of power, with the UK’s largest solar park set to power 91,000 homes once complete. However, the amount of land required for solar parks can be damaging to the environment.

About half of PV in the UK has been installed as ground-mounted solar parks, ranging in size from one to 40 hectares. The experts report that, because solar parks are often built on landscapes that have been intensively farmed and are poor for biodiversity, they may provide opportunities to establish hotspots of pollinator biodiversity.

“Many pollinators are in decline both in the UK and in other parts of the world,” said study co-author Hollie Blaydes. “Actions to conserve pollinators include reversing agricultural intensification and maintaining natural habitat, both of which can be achieved within solar parks. Often built amongst agricultural land, solar parks offer a unique opportunity to provide pollinator resources where they are most needed.”

“As well as promoting biodiversity, pollinator-friendly solar parks also have the potential to provide tangible economic benefits to farmers through enhancing pollination services to adjacent agricultural land, boosting crop yields,” explained Professor Simon Potts of the University of Reading. 

“Imagine a world where solar parks not only produced much needed low carbon electricity but were also diverse and attractive wildflower meadows buzzing with insect life.”

The study is published in the journal Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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