PV and biodiversity

The positive effect of PV on biodiversity is undenyable

Ground-mounted solar parks promote the biodiversity of fauna and flora

It's a hot early summer’s day in Carlino, Italy. The air smells of wild flowers, the birds are singing, the insects are buzzing and all this in the middle of a solar park. For more than 10 years, this small town in northern Italy has been home to a PV park that is divided into three sections with an area of almost 92 hectares and a total capacity of around 22 MWp. The plant has not only been producing green electricity for almost ten years. It has at the same time become the home of various species of songbirds, which live there undisturbed and can raise their offspring in peace year after year. What can be observed here is an effect that will gain in importance, because the habitat for flora and fauna is increasingly being destroyed by, among other things, the agricultural and industrial use of the available land. As a result the preservation of biodiversity is becoming ever more important.

The positive effect of PV on biodiversity

Biological diversity, also known as “biodiversity”, refers to the diversity of the world's animal, fungal and plant life. Biodiversity is threatened in particular by the high level of resource consumption by the world's steadily growing population, changes in land use, increasing environmental pollution, climate change and invasive animal and plant species. The loss of biodiversity has far-reaching scientific, social and political consequences.

With a view to the energy turnaround, the question of the optimal use of the available land is becoming increasingly important. A study by Germany's Federal Association of the New Energy Industry (Bundesverband Neue Energiewirtschaft) has taken a closer look at the synergies between the use of land for solar parks and the conservation of the local flora and fauna. The result is indeed an increase in biodiversity. According to the study, the inclusion of biodiversity concepts in the planning of photovoltaic systems can be a successful measure against the decline of insect populations, endangered animal and plant species and soil erosion.

Ground-mounted photovoltaic systems are an option that offers several advantages. In particular, if climate protection goals are to be achieved, solar power is a cheap and environmentally friendly method that should be increasingly promoted. At the same time the land on which the solar installations are built provides habitat for plants and animals, which are protected from external influences there: in other words, a win-win situation.

The use of land for photovoltaics instead of agriculture

The extensive use of green spaces, which is typical for ground-mounted solar systems, plays a decisive role for biodiversity: in contrast to agricultural use, which accounts for about 50 percent of the available land in Germany, for photovoltaics the homogeneity of the area, for example through the cultivation of monocultures, is not important. Instead, plants can flourish here that have no chance in standard agriculture and in the worst case are even threatened with extinction. Pesticides and fertilizers are also generally not used in solar parks.

The positive effect of photovoltaic systems on biodiversity depends above all on the previous use of the site and the way the system is constructed. In the short to medium term, the right conditions enable the development of habitats that are ideally suited for plant and animal species that have often disappeared from the agricultural landscape. As a particularly helpful measure, with a view to promoting biodiversity the distance between rows should be taken into account in the construction of new facilities. They should not be planned too closely, because the permanent extensive use or care of the land between the individual rows of modules is an essential factor for the species-rich settlement of solar parks with different types of fauna.

According to the study, these areas therefore differ significantly from intensively farmed land or land used for energy production from biomass. Here too, nature can provide a remedy: in the solar park built in 2008 in Alange in Spain sheep and wild boar, among other animals, roam between the rows of modules of the 8,490 kW system because they find enough food here.

An overview of the advantages of using land for photovoltaics:

  • promotion of biodiversity: the diversity of plant and animal species can be maintained and, if necessary, even increased
  • creation of extensive permanent grassland: the greening of land creates habitats for plants and animals in the short and medium term
  • formation of humus: the fertility of the soil is increased and consequently captures CO2 from the air

Foto: iStock/inaquim

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