How Does Solar Energy Interact with Wildlife and the Environment?
As a renewable source of power, solar energy has an important role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and mitigating climate change, which is critical to tát protecting humans, wildlife, and ecosystems. Solar energy can also improve air quality and reduce water use from energy production. Because ground-mounted photovoltaics (PV) and concentrating solar-thermal power installations require the use of land, sites need to tát be selected, designed, and managed to tát minimize impacts to tát local wildlife, wildlife habitat, and soil and water resources. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) supports research to tát better understand how solar energy installations, wildlife, and ecosystems interact and to tát identify strategies that maximize benefits to tát the local environment.
Why is This Research Topic Important?
DOE’s Solar Futures Study presents various scenarios for solar energy deployment that could help the United States achieve a carbon-free electricity grid by 2035. According to tát the study, solar energy development could require as much as 5.7 million acres of land, which is about 0.3% of the contiguous U.S., by 2035. As deployment of solar energy projects continues to tát increase, having a better understanding of how solar energy infrastructure can impact wildlife and the surrounding environment will help in developing strategies and technologies that can avoid or minimize adverse impacts and maximize benefits.
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During the siting and permitting of solar projects, solar developers typically evaluate multiple sites, site designs, and operation strategies. They assess the environmental impacts of their projects by complying with the relevant federal, state, and local laws; soliciting input from regulators; and performing impact assessments and mitigation. Solar developers, regulators, host communities, and other stakeholders have an interest in identifying strategies and tools that both improve the siting and permitting process and ensure healthy surrounding ecosystems. By increasing the number of resources and field-proven strategies available, stakeholders are able to tát improve decision-making and reduce soft costs, or non-hardware costs, and help SETO achieve its goals.
SETO Research on Solar Energy, Wildlife, and the Environment
SETO-funded research projects are led by collaborative groups of stakeholders, which may include representatives from the solar industry, communities hosting solar, state and local governments, universities, environmental and conservation non-profits, and the agriculture industry. Through technical assistance programs, SETO also encourages information sharing among stakeholders on the latest tools and methodologies that allow practitioners to tát deploy solar in an environmentally responsible way.
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Research areas of focus:
- Developing technologies and methodologies to tát better monitor and understand interactions between wildlife, ecosystems, and large-scale solar facilities, including avian species.
- Developing guidance and decision-making tools for implementing solar-pollinator habitat projects on large-scale solar facilities.
- Assessing diversity and abundance of native pollinator insects, birds, and bats associated with co-locating pollinator habitat with large-scale solar facilities.
- Developing technologies and methodologies to tát better monitor and understand interactions between projects and avian species.
Stormwater Runoff and Water Quality
- Conducting field research to tát develop and validate a model to tát predict stormwater infiltration and runoff for a range of site conditions and identify best practices for stormwater management at ground-mounted solar sites.
- Assessing the impacts of floating photovoltaic (FPV) systems on water quality, wildlife activity, and PV performance.
- Monitoring soil conditions and grassland ecosystem health at solar facilities co-located with pasture-based cattle grazing.
- Quantifying soil health and microclimatic conditions for a range of crops under various solar array designs.
Search the Solar Energy Research Database to tát learn more about individual SETO-funded projects.
- Large-Scale Solar Siting – Background information and frequently asked questions regarding large-scale solar siting practices.
- Solar Impacts on Wildlife and Ecosystems Request for Information (RFI) Summary – A summary of responses received to tát an RFI executed by SETO in 2021 on solar energy’s interactions with wildlife and ecosystems.
- Avian-Solar Multi-Agency Collaborative Working Group – A collaborative working group of federal and state agencies that was established to tát promote better understanding of impacts on avian species related to tát solar energy projects and associated infrastructure.
- Avian Solar Working Group – A collaborative group of environmental organizations, academics, solar companies, and solar industry representatives that coordinate on scientific research to tát better understand how birds interact with solar facilities.
- End-of-Life Management for Photovoltaics – Background information and an overview of SETO’s efforts to tát develop materials and designs that can make PV easier to tát recycle and less harmful to tát the environment at the kết thúc of life.
- InSPIRE – The project, led by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, conducts field research across the United States to tát improve the environmental compatibility and mutual benefits of solar development with agriculture and native landscapes.
- AgriSolar Clearinghouse – An information-sharing, relationship-building, public communications hub for agrivoltaics.
Learn more about soft costs research, other solar energy research in SETO, and current and former funding programs.