Biodiversity plan released for solar farms

Any large scale generation facility has an impact on the land it occupies. However, well managed solar farms have some unique characteristics which make them ideally suited to encouraging biodiversity compared to non-renewable generation.

Two of the primary factors are that once operational, solar farms are virtually silent and include no moving parts. This makes them ideal as habitats for bird breeding through the planting of wildflowers and nectar-producing flowers. Biodiversity is further increased because native flowers attract insects, a food chain foundation, which supports invertebrates, pollen-collecting fauna and provides protection and cover for ground-dwelling mammals.Because solar farms are fenced, they can provide a crucial “habitat island” and protect native species from non-native predators, such as foxes, rabbits and wild dogs.

Compared to non-renewable generation (particularly large diesel generators) there are also a suite of other benefits. Diesel generation requires less space, but generates noise and fumes. They also require regular visitation for re-fuelling and servicing and the potential for fuel or oil spills is significant.

Solar farms require very infrequent and non-invasive maintenance; generally restricted to periodic maintenance checks and washing. Managed carefully, water for washing can be harvested on site and returned to on-site ponds and water courses which provide further habitat for native invertebrates and reptiles.

Although focused on the United Kingdom, a new document titled “Biodiversity Guidance for Solar Developments” was recently released by the BRE National Solar Centre, highlighting how biodiversity can be managed and encouraged on solar farms.

The report highlights a number of successful cases where species and habitat can be improved on otherwise degraded sites in conjunction with well-developed Biodiversity Management Plans and the deployment of solar farms.

One great example that has important ramifications for Australia is a UK plan to use solar farms to provide habitat for bumble bees. Around the world honey bee populations are in severe decline suffering from habitat decline and disease, but partnerships in the UK have demonstrated that solar farms are an ideal micro habitat for both pollen production through wildflowers and safe places for bees to form hives.

Australia has around 1500 species of native bees although the vast majority are solitary, rather than living in colonies. We also have 10 species of social bees who produce and store honey, alongside the many introduced species of European bees. Importantly, many of our bee species are less affected by disease than those in other countries and Australia has become an important centre of research into the issue.

It may just be that well-managed solar farms could become an important way to help protect and enhance our healthy bee populations along with a wide range of other flora and fauna.

Top image: Neon cuckoo bee, © Erica Seigel, via Aussiebee.com.au

© 2014 Solar Choice Pty Ltd

Nigel Morris

Nigel is one of the foremost solar energy analysts in Australia, having worked in the industry for over two decades.
Nigel Morris