How Pollinators Benefit From Solar Panel Shades, Thus Making Flowers Abundant

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Everyone is going green, even in their energy source. In fact, solar panels are becoming more and more popular. Those who have it swear by it. Not only do these panels lower energy costs, it also comes with a myriad of other benefits.

The plants that surround these solar panels benefit from it as well. Many experts have seen how the surroundings have enjoyed the advantages that come with it. For those who want lush gardens and beautiful sceneries, this may be the perfect way to go.

A new study that was conducted by experts saw how shade that was provided by solar panels increased the abundance of flowers that were found growing under these panels. They also saw how the panels delayed the timing of their bloom. Both findings could actually be of big help to the different agricultural communities.

The study is believed to be the first that looked at the effects and the impact of solar panels on flowering plants and insects. The findings may have crucial implications for solar developers who manage the plots of land that surround these solar panels. It will also benefit the agriculture and pollinator health advocates who have been searching for the perfect parcel of land to use for pollinator habitat restoration.

The findings regarding solar panels were released by Oregon State University. This comes at a timely fashion, as some states, such as Minnesota, North Carolina, Maryland, Vermont and Virginia, have already developed statewide guidelines and incentives that promote the use of pollinator-focused solar installations.

Maggie Graham, a faculty research assistant at Oregon State and lead author of the paper on solar panels, state, “The understudy of solar panels is typically managed to limit the growth of plants.” She continued to explain, “My thought coming into this research was can we flip that? Why not plant under solar arrays with something beneficial to the surrounding ecosystem, like flowers that attract pollinators? Would insects even use it? This study demonstrates that the answer is yes.”

Moreover, the pollinating insects in the area help in the reproduction of 75 percent of flowering plant species and 35 percent of crop species globally. In the United States alone, pollination services to agriculture are been valued at a whopping $14 billion annually. This is good news because habitat for pollinating insects is declining at a global scale. This comes as a result of urbanization, agricultural intensification, and land development. Then, changes in the worldwide climate can also cause changes and sifts in its availability.

Meanwhile, solar photovoltaic installation in the US has now increased. It went up by an average of 48 percent per annum just in the past decade alone. The researchers also believe that Its current capacity is expected to double again in the next five years. Hence, this leads to an increased demand for solar panels, especially in the field of agrivoltaics. This is where solar energy production is combined with agricultural production, such as planting agricultural crops or grazing animals, on the same piece of land and at one time.

Graham also works with a man named Chad Higgins. The latter is an associate professor in Oregon State’s College of Agricultural Sciences. Higgins recently published a paper that stated and discovered how co-developing land for both solar photovoltaic power and agriculture could provide 20 percent of total electricity generation in the entire US, and this requires an investment of less than 1 percent of the annual budget of the country.

There is also an ongoing wide-scale installation of agrivoltaic systems. This development could lead to an annual reduction of 330,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions in the country. The amount is the equivalent of 75,000 cars off the road per year. Higgins found that this also leads to the creation of more than 100,000 jobs in rural communities, while minimally having an impact on crop yield.

The new study is led by Graham, and the findings have been published in the journal Scientific Reports. The research was conducted at the 45-acre Eagle Point Solar Plant in Jackson County, Oregon. The methodology required the research team to collect data on pollinator and plant populations during seven, two-day sampling events from the months of June to September 2019. This was done to correspond with post-peak bloom times for flowers. That’s because extending bloom times is rather crucial, especially when it comes to pollinating insects. That’s because it provides them food later during the season, as what the researchers stated.

The researchers then collected data from 48 species of plants and 65 different species of insects. In order to make this possible, the sites for the study were broken into three categories: full shade plots under solar panels, partial shade plots under solar panels, and full sun plots not under panels. Findings included the following:

  1. Floral abundance was greatest in partial shade plots. There were 4 percent more blooms when compared to full sun and full shade plots.
  2. The amount of flower species and the diversity of flowers within the areas even with the different plots were basically the same.
  3. It had an average of 3 percent more pollinating insects in partial shade and full sun plots than in full shade plots.
  4. The number of insect species and the diversity of insects were higher in partial shade and full sun plots rather than in full shade areas.
  5. The number of insects per flower wasn’t significantly different among the different plots.

Graham talked about the research conducted and said, “Unused or underutilized lands below solar panels represent an opportunity to augment the expected decline of pollinator habitat. Near agricultural lands, this also has the potential to benefit the surrounding agricultural community and presents an avenue for future study.”

Graham further explained, “Solar developers, policy makers, agricultural communities and pollinator health advocates looking to maximize land-use efficiency, biodiversity and pollination services might want to consider pollinator habitat at solar photovoltaic sites as an option.”


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