Report about Biodiversity in and around Solar Parks

What is the environmental impact of solar parks?

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Renewable energies will become the most important energy source of the 21st century. However, as demand for photovoltaic energy has increased, the expansion of solar parks has become a subject of debate.

One of the key questions raised about solar parks is how they impact the environment. Growing public attention has been focused on how solar parks affect both climate change and biodiversity. Although the land use for solar parks is minimal compared to other uses, such as open-cast mining or agriculture, the solar sector must also evaluate and manage any negative impacts of its activities on the environment.

This report, published by the German Renewable Energies Agency in December 2010, summarizes the results of a multi-stakeholder project exploring the impact of solar parks on biodiversity. It was initiated by First Solar in the spring of 2010, coinciding with the “International Year of Biodiversity” 2010. The aim was to collect and publish current knowledge about this relatively new area, including monitoring data from several existing solar parks. The results show that solar parks can increase the number of species, thereby acting as a ‘biodiversity multiplier’. The report also highlights best practice examples and measurements to further improve the effects of solar parks on biodiversity.

One of the most influential guideline papers in this area to date was developed by the environmental organization NABU in association with the German Solar Association (BSW) in 2005. These ‘NABU-criteria’ define a variety of environmental protection requirements that solar parks should respect. These have widely been used in the German market. Recently, there have been several additional studies on the interaction between solar parks and biodiversity in Germany. Some were conducted by official institutions like the German Ministry of Environment (BMU) and the Federal Office for Nature Protection (BfN). Other monitoring projects have a more local focus on either single solar parks and/or on a more limited number of species. These studies are also showing positive developments. However, the results of these studies are not yet well known in the general public or among key stakeholders. It was the goal of this project to assess and summarize these results and make them publicly available.

Conclusion of the report: Solar parks can result in an increase of biodiversity

The general conclusion of this background paper is that climate protection and preserving biodiversity can go hand in hand. There are a range of solar parks that have resulted in an increase of biodiversity. These include land which was previously used for intensive agricultural or sealed lands. Similarly positive developments were also shown in responsibly managed solar parks on “conversion land”, including old military fields. The study established that the solar parks can create new habitat for endangered animals and plants, such as the birds tawny pipit and the hoopoe or plants like the grey hair grass in case of the solar park in Lieberose.

The analysis also showed there is a large interest in this topic outside of Germany, where many of the largest solar parks are being built today. It seems however, that systematic research, criteria and
experiences are less available, due to the much more recent development of solar parks. One example of proactive engagement is France: The Organisation Comité de Liaison Energies Renouvelables (CLER), in cooperation with other NGOs including WWF, Birdlife France (League des Oiseaux France) and Greenpeace, is developing a criteria check list for solar parks that is comparable to the NABU-criteria.

Responsible planning, construction and operation can optimize effects

The report also establishes how good planning and management of solar parks can further enable positive environmental impact, illustrated with best practice examples. For example, dedicated buffer areas in solar parks can grow into important biotopes for endangered species. Other measures and recommendations for optimizing the environmental impacts of solar parks, during planning, construction and operational phases include:

• Consideration of local conditions in an environmental impact study and definition of relevant compensatory measures;
• Involvement of (local) experts for ecological project planning;
• Avoidance of soil sealing (sealing should usually not be more than 1 % of surface);
• Correct choice of crops when replanting the area within the solar park to enable contributions to the preservation of local genetic diversity;
• Avoidance of the negative effects of fencing for animals by minimizing the closed areas and leaving gaps for animals;
• Development of monitoring programs to help gather further information for future improvements.

In summary the Renews Spezial 45/2010 shows that using land for PV development can be in line with environmental protection, and even enhance biodiversity, provided sensitive areas are properly protected, and solar parks are responsibly planned and managed. The report will serve as a background guide to inform interested stakeholders and local communities. It will hopefully contribute to a balanced debate on the development and acceptance of solar parks and the promotion of renewable and solar energy in the coming years.

Source: Renewable Energies Agency

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