A new study at Lancaster University and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in the United Kingdom found that solar farms not only are good for the environment because they’re eliminating pollutants for the atmosphere, they’re also good locally because they can reduce local temperatures.
“This is particularly important as solar parks take up more space per unit of power generated compared with traditional sources. This has implications for ecosystems and the provision of goods, for example crops, and services, such as soil carbon storage,” said lead Author Alona Armstrong of Lancaster University. “But until this study we didn’t understand how solar parks impacted climate and ecosystems.”
The researchers found that solar farms provided as much as 5 degrees Centigrade of cooling during the summer by looking at data for a large solar park near Swindon for a year. So if a solar farm reduced temperatures by 5 degrees Centigrade on a day when the temperature reached 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 degrees Centigrade) the area near the solar farm would be closer to 86 degrees Fahrenheit (30 degrees centigrade).
The researchers, who published “Solar park microclimate and vegetation management effects on grassland carbon cycling” in the Journal Environmental Research Letters, found that the effects varied by time of year and the time of day.
“This understanding becomes even more compelling when applied to areas that are very sunny that may also suffer water shortages,” Armstrong observed. “The shade under the panels may allow crops to be grown that can’t survive in full sun. Also, water losses may be reduced and water could be collected from the large surfaces of the solar panels and used for crop irrigation.”
She and coauthors Nicholas J Ostle and Jeanette Whitaker argued that understanding how solar farms affect the local area gives farmers and land managers knowledge to choose which crops to grow and how best to manage the land. They say such knowledge could help maximise biodiversity and improve yields.
“With policies in dominant economies supporting solar energy, it is important that we understand the environmental impacts to ensure we get more than just low carbon energy from the land they occupy,” Armstrong said of the research.
The research is part of a growing body of evidence that shows how solar farms have additional benefits for wildlife and biodiversity.