Researchers at the U.S Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory are studying solar energy facilities with pollinator habitats on site.
By this, they hope to rehabilitate declining pollinator populations that play an important role in the agricultural industries. The loss of such species could result in devastating crop production, costs, and nutrition on a global scale.
Currently, pollinators are responsible for pollinating nearly 75 percent of all crops used for food. However, because of the increase in man-made environmental stressors, their population declines.
The researchers team has been working on examining the potential benefits of establishing species’ habitat at utility-scale solar energy facilities to resolve the problem. They have found that the area around solar panels could provide an ideal location for the plants that attract pollinators.
Usually, this land is unused and is filled with gravel or turf grass. It can be used to establish native plant species, such as prairie grass or wildflowers, which are prevalent pollinator habitats. This is expected to encourage steady population growth.
Additionally, this solution could improve the sustainability of solar energy development in agricultural regions. By increasing the ability of pollinators to pollinate adjacent agricultural fields, solar-sited pollinator habitat may boost farmer’s crop yields and make solar farms a more welcome neighbor to agricultural farms.
This was researched in a recent study that found over 3,500 square km of agricultural land near existing and planned solar sites that could benefit. Also, it could help reinstate the declining pollinator population with few subsequent side effects.
Solar-sited pollinator habitat can help optimize the land-use efficiency of solar energy developments, while not compromising solar panel efficiency. However, the researchers are not quite sure whether the high upfront costs for seed mixes and establishing the pollinator habitats will be offset by lower facility maintenance costs.
The researchers team looked at three crop types(soybeans, almonds, and cranberries) to measure the benefits of increased pollinator habitat. If this solution will be used near these crops, their value could raise $1.75 million, $4 million and $233,000 (respectively).
Next, said Hartmann, the team will begin fieldwork that measures the type and numbers of native pollinators in areas surrounding USSE facilities.
This study provides even more opportunities for investigating the environmental benefits of pollinator habitat, such as water conservation, land management, and carbon dioxide reduction.