The Birds and the Bees

The benefits of solar-sited pollinators

Laura_Sanchez_Editor

As a result of increasing environmental stressors and urbanization, bee populations have declined significantly in recent years. Researchers at the US Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory are investigating ways to support pollinator populations by hosting them on solar sites—a solution that also increases land use efficiency.

Bees play a valuable role in agricultural production, responsible for pollinating up to 75% of all crops worldwide, according to Smithsonian Magazine. Therefore, scientists explain that the disappearance of bee species could impact crop production and nutrition on a global scale.

Solar power facilities are typically situated on gravel or turf grass lots and the land below them goes unused. But what if these locations could be used to establish native plant species to help nourish pollinator populations?

In order to evaluate the effects of solar-sited pollinators on agriculture, researchers from Argonne National Laboratory’s Environmental Science (EVS) division recently examined 2,800 facilities across the US. They determined that the area around solar panels could provide an ideal pollinator habitat without compromising solar panel efficiency. Their findings are published in Environmental Science & Technology.

They found that creating these habitats also boosts crop yields for nearby farms. In an effort to measure the agricultural benefits of increased pollinator habitat, researchers evaluated the impact on three example crop types–soybeans, almonds, and cranberries. They determined that if all existing and planned solar facilities near these crop types included pollinator habitat, crop values would likely rise $1.75 million, $4 million, and $233,000 respectively, indicating that pollinator habitats at solar facilities could provide significant agricultural benefits.

States such as Illinois, Maryland, and Minnesota have already created legislation outlining standards for managing habitats for pollinators and native plants at solar facilities.  What are your thoughts on the use of space below solar generating facilities to support pollinator populations?  DE_bug_web

Comments
  • David Mann.

    The solar field near our house has sheep. They can’t keep up with the volunteer grass and weeds at this time of year, but they certainly eat up around the posts and under the panels where the mower can’t get. [and they are getting bigger, so are able to eat more] I suppose intentional plantings of pollinator species would be beneficial for the solar field and for the surrounding country.

    Reply
  • Carol Werner.

    Sounds like a ‘win-win’ strategy all around — make better and more efficient use of the land and provide the kind of habitat access and more hives to address the extremely important issue of helping ensure the health and well-being of adequate pollinators for our crops. Am so glad that Argonne is working on this — but we also need to make sure that we are not harming pollinators (and the ecosystems that support them) by the kinds of chemicals that may be applied. We need to do better than trying to help on the one hand while exacerbating on the other hand!

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