Community solar is a simple way for homeowners, renters, and organizations to access the benefits of clean, renewable energy without start-up costs. Users can reduce their carbon footprint and make a positive environmental impact – and even save on their energy costs.
However, some may be concerned about how large-scale solar farms impact land use and natural habitats.
What Does a Solar Farm Need?
While it’s true that solar farms built on land require vegetation around the panels to be maintained so it doesn’t shade the panels, there are many creative ways to achieve this goal without harming the local habitat. In fact, a solar farm can be managed to enhance the local natural habitat and environment.
Benefits Solar Farms Produce Besides Energy
As community solar has grown in popularity, new land use arrangements and techniques have continued to evolve. Here are a few ways solar farms can produce benefits besides clean energy.
- Livestock Grazing. Solar farms are increasingly using sheep to maintain vegetation under and around panels in what’s called solar grazing. The panels provide shade and a windbreak for sheep. Solar grazing allows farmers to produce more revenue streams from the land, and it even promotes soil fertility.
- Boosting Pollinators. When land under and directly around solar farms is used to establish native vegetation like wildflowers and prairie grasses, it attracts bees, butterflies, birds, moths, bats, and other insects that can benefit crop yields for nearby farmers.
Producing Crops. In the U.S. and throughout the world, agrivoltaics has grown in popularity as a way for farmers to produce energy and agricultural crops from the dual land usage. Plants growing under panels receive sunlight but also shade from the sun’s most intense rays – and the plants give off water vapor that keeps the panels cool from below, increasing their efficiency.1 Farmers and researchers continue to experiment to find the best types of crops for agrivoltaics.
Other Types of Solar Farms and Their Benefits
Floating solar farms – usually built over water bodies such as wastewater treatment plants, hydroelectric dam reservoirs, or drinking water reservoirs – generate clean solar energy. While building over water is more expensive, these solar farms reduce the need to use land space.
Besides producing clean energy that reduces greenhouse gases, other benefits of floating solar farms include:
- Reducing evaporation of the water bodies – particularly important during droughts.
Reducing algae blooms in freshwater bodies, which can kill plants and animals and cause health problems when they appear in drinking water sources.2
Massachusetts is experimenting with testing highway noise barriers that absorb sound and produce solar energy at the same time.3 Producing clean, renewable energy from panels mounted on the same barrier used to reduce local noise pollution makes creative use of space and achieves two goals to help the local environment.
What Does the Future Hold?
With community solar’s exponential growth, more innovative new ways to create environmentally friendly and economically beneficial partnerships are likely to evolve. We’ll keep you updated as solar technology and partnerships continue to generate more benefits than just clean, renewable energy.