Solar sustainability took centre focus for us at SolarPower Europe this year as we held our first Sustainable Solar Europe event and launched new best practice guidelines for Solar, Biodiversity and Land Use. In the lead up to this event and report launch, we ran a photo competition for our members to showcase their beautiful photos portraying solar and nature thriving together. The winner of this year's Solar Flora and Fauna Competition was Lightsource bp with this great picture of a hare passing through their Wilburton solar site in the UK.
Q&A with Lightsource bp's Director of Environmental & Social Planning, Penny Laurenson
Congratulations on winning our 2022 Solar Flora and Fauna Photo Competition. Can you tell us a bit more about this photo and the site it was taken on?
This image was taken at our Wilburton solar farm, a 4.9MWp site in the UK. The site was installed in 2011 and has since seen an increase in wildlife, not just our friendly hare but also butterflies, dragonflies, badgers and many bird species including the elusive Grey Partridge. The panels from the site are particularly beneficial to the Grey Partridge as a form of shelter, protecting them from overhead predation.
The increase in wildlife is partly attributed to the land management practices we have implemented on the site, which have allowed the local ecosystem to benefit through wildflower habitat planting schemes. Throughout their lifecycle, the passive nature of solar farms can provide a suitable location for ecosystem regeneration, which can then potentially operate as a wildlife corridor, where visitors like our friendly hare can roam around, shelter and forage. We also have beekeeping initiatives on our Wilburton site, from which we produce our very own solar honey.
Sustainable solar power goes beyond the supply of renewable energy, it’s about how we run a business that provides value for our environment and people.
Why is sustainability such an important topic for Lightsource bp?
Sustainability is a core value at Lightsource bp and delivering solar projects in a sustainable and responsible way is key to how we operate. In 2021 we launched our sustainability framework, which supports UN SDGs 7 (affordable and clean energy), 8 (decent work and economic growth), 13 (Climate action) and 15 (life on land).
In November 2022, we officially launched our company’s first sustainability report which is the result of more than a decade of hard work and dedication. Our business operations contribute to wider societal goals, and we want to ensure that as we grow and develop, we continue to align our operations with the planet and keep communities at the heart of what we do. Our sustainability strategy will enable us to continue along this path and improve as we grow.
Can you tell us more about Lightsource bp's solar sustainability initiatives?
Through our environmental stewardship approach, we are focusing on increasing biodiversity, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and improving circularity. As our sites are situated on large areas of land this presents both an opportunity and, we believe, a responsibility to support local ecosystems, through the creation of habitat and biodiversity enhancements.
One example of this is the development of Biodiversity Management Plans which outline project-specific plans to deliver biodiversity net gain. Our Manor Farm project is an example of how our planting and management practices are helping to integrate solar with the natural world. Since we first put pen to paper to develop this site, we ensured protection of the site's natural features including all hedgerows within and immediately around the site. We then established an ecological baseline from where we could look to improve the ecosystem, including planting native species hedgerows to patch up gaps, helping create wildlife corridors, nesting sites and natural screening to the project. Feathered trees have been planted to complement the hedgerows, which provide additional roost, foraging and commuting opportunities.
The project is also host to sheep that graze amongst the panels, foraging on the plants from our seed mix of wildflower and herbs, which also provide nectar and pollen for pollinators and habitat for small mammals. Stocking density is reduced during the flowering season to allow the wildflower meadows to establish. All planting and ongoing maintenance is undertaken with respect to ecosystem functionality and bird-nesting seasons. Finally, the sheep’s dung also helps to rejuvenate the soil and boost grass growth. All of these measures have helped to provide a solar farm that has integrated into the environment, offering a home, passageway and foraging ground for many bird and small mammal species, including badgers and bats, a host of insects, amphibians and reptiles.
Our projects can also host species-specific initiatives to protect wildlife such as the Lesser Kestrel in Southern Europe, where we took specific protection actions through the construction phase of the project and provided support for a Kestrel chick raising programme.
In other projects, our soil initiatives are playing a role that can reduce atmospheric emissions and increase soil health. Like our short-grass prairie conservation efforts at Bighorn and Sun Mountain sites in the US. These planting schemes draw carbon out of the atmosphere and lock it up in the soil, which help enrich and replenish the ground our projects are sited on.
We are aware of the complexities of competing land uses, and in addition to our biodiversity efforts we have some projects known as Agrivoltaics or Agri-PV. This refers to a multi land-use that combines solar generation with agricultural activities. Agri-PV helps us deliver on clean electricity generation, whilst also maintaining agricultural use through the grazing of livestock. The panels can even provide shelter from heat and rain for small livestock. This can play a key role in supporting conflicting land uses, and we are actively innovating in this area, by looking for ways to combine solar generation and food production, with the local context always taken into consideration.
As the climate emergency gathers pace, our ambition to be a leader within the energy transition becomes ever more important. In addition to developing solar energy at scale, which avoids significant emissions by replacing fossil-based energy sources, we also seek to improve the emissions footprint across our value chain. In our recently released sustainability report, we have set targets to reduce our scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions as we continue on our core goal of delivering solar power.
As a solar developer, we are focused on designing our projects with increased quality to extend the life of our assets. We are also working to understand our waste footprint and have committed to reusing or recycling solar panels within our operations. We will continue to share our progress on our goals through our annual reporting framework, ensuring we keep our people and the communities that we work with at the front and centre of everything we do.