Benefits of dual-use solar
Europe’s water levels are plummeting, and the soils are drying up, affecting agriculture and other water-dependent sectors. Changing weather conditions such as heatwaves, droughts, and heavy rainfall greatly impact crop yields in Europe. Data shows that this year’s drought has negatively impacted corn and sunflower yield in Romania and Bulgaria, whereas Greece and Slovenia experienced loss of crops and destruction of soil due to severe flooding. In addition, Europe faced economic loss of nearly half a trillion euros from damages caused by extreme climate events.
Climate change negatively impacts nature and biodiversity, harming Europe’s most precious wildlife and ecosystems. Data indicates that both terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems and species are at risk of destruction and even extinction. Europe, the continent with the highest environmental standards, has initiated number of policies promoting nature protection and ecosystem restoration, leading to the preservation health and well-being of Europeans. In 2022, the EU proposed a landmark initiative – the EU Nature Restoration Law – that aims to halt biodiversity loss and restore disrupted ecosystems across Europe. The regulation has entered the interinstitutional negotiations, where it will seek its adoption by early 2024. The EU nature protection framework is crucial in ensuring healthy ecosystems, the foundation of all nature assets that humankind depend on.
Solar PV can enable sustainable development of project sites compatible with local nature, biodiversity, and agriculture. Solar applications such as Agrisolar, Floating PV and nature-inclusive PV, enable dual use of land, while alleviating land scarcity issues, increasing water efficiency, providing healthy soils, and protecting crops from the adverse impacts of extreme weather. With appropriately sited, designed, and managed solar sites, it is possible to restore degraded land, improve a site’s ecological status and provide significant biodiversity net gains.
Solar PV sites show, among other things, that with the appropriate measures, they can benefit from:
- Up to 281% biodiversity net gain: A recent survey assessing ten solar sites showed that 9 out of 10 solar sites resulted in an increase of 14-281% biodiversity net gain. Similar studies show significant increase in local flora and fauna, i.e. the presence of endangered insect and butterfly species, as well as species at risk of extinction, or an increase in reptile and breeding bird population on solar sites.
- 51% reduction in temperature under solar PV panels: as shown at an Agri-PV grapevine site in France, solar PV panels can protect crops during heatwave by reducing the temperature by 51% under the solar PV panels in scorching hours. Panel shading can also preserve vegetation and wildlife during heatwaves or rain and hail, or other adverse weather. Data monitored at an Agri-PV site in France showed lower soil temperature during warmer periods under the panel shading.
- Up to 80% increase in carbon storage: results obtained from a study assessing a solar site showed an increase in carbon storage by up to 80% where sheep management was integrated.
- 20-30% reduction in water usage: A number of Agri-PV sites show that water savings can go up to 20-30%. Panel shading can minimise evapotranspiration and therefore help in reducing water for irrigation purposes.
- 30-60% increase in crop yield: Data obtained from an Agri-PV experimental site in Greece and Spain showed an increase in crop yield by 30% for eggplants, 18% for strawberries, 60% for peppers and 40% for forage. An experimental Agri-PV site on Peonies showed an improved flower yield by 17% under the solar PV panels.
With the current global issues – climate warming and biodiversity loss – threatening our nature, society, and economy, it is of greatest importance to address both emergencies simultaneously. Protecting and restoring ecosystems will support climate mitigation, help us adapt to climate change and secure prosperous and sustainable future for all. Evidently, dual use of solar can help in alleviating these issues and provide solutions to adapt to climate change.
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