Research finds climate around solar panels alters

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According to a team of environmental scientists and ecologists from Lancaster University and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology researching the impact of solar arrays on the environment, “with policies in dominant economies supporting solar energy, it is important that we understand the environmental impacts to ensure we get more than just low-carbon energy from the land they occupy."CIOL Microclimate around solar panels alter by 5 degree Celsius: Research


The group has released a new study they believe will lead to smarter farming and land use around these alternative energy sources. The paper published in the journal Environmental Research Letters says that the microclimate around the bank of photovoltaic panels studied near Swindon in the UK changed by as much as 5 degrees Celsius, depending on the season. Though for many this is like an obvious side effect of creating a big field of artificial shade, the researchers are expressing concern regarding the impact on the plants and soil underneath these solar panels.

Dr. Alona Armstrong, one of the paper's authors, speaking to said that they found that more than just creating shade, the panels were decreasing the species diversity and the biomass of the plants on the ground, which in turn was affecting how much carbon could be stored in the soil beneath the solar panels. If the soil around a solar array is storing less carbon than the array itself is meant to offset, the result is a less-than-optimal arrangement. In other words: to maximize the impact of a field of solar panels, a landowner should optimize the shady space beneath it.

Dr. Armstrong says that although more research is needed to establish these effects in other climates but their study could inform practices like growing shade-loving crops in arid regions using runoff water collected from the panels themselves which is a much greener method than turning your solar array into a laser beam.