Solar panels study reveals impact on the Earth

July 13, 2016, Lancaster University
Credit: Lancaster University

Researchers have produced the first detailed study of the impact of solar parks on the environment, opening the door to smarter forms of farming and better land management. 

Environmental Scientists at Lancaster University and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology monitored a large solar park, near Swindon, for a year. 

They found that solar parks altered the local climate, measuring cooling of as much as 5 degrees Centigrade under the panels during the summer but the effects varied depending on the time of year and the time of day. 

As climate controls biological processes, such as plant growth rates, this is really important information and can help understand how best to manage  solar parks so they have environmental benefits in addition to supplying low carbon energy. 

Their paper 'Solar park microclimate and vegetation management effects on grassland carbon cycling' is published in the journal Environmental Research Letters

Increasing energy demands and the drive towards low carbon energy sources have prompted a rapid increase in ground-mounted solar parks across the world.

 This means a significant land use change on a global scale and has prompted urgent calls for a detailed understanding of the impacts of solar parks on the fields beneath them. 

Dr Alona Armstrong, of Lancaster University, said the new study raises some key questions for the future. 

She said: "Solar parks are appearing in our landscapes but we are uncertain how they will affect the local environment." 

"This is particularly important as solar parks take up more space per unit of power generated compared with traditional sources. This has implications for ecosystems and the provision of goods, for example crops, and services, such as soil carbon storage. But until this study we didn't understand how solar parks impacted climate and ecosystems." 

"With policies in dominant economies supporting , it is important that we understand the environmental impacts to ensure we get more than just low carbon energy from the land they occupy." 

The authors of the study say understanding the climate effects of solar parks will give farmers and land managers the knowledge they need to choose which crops to grow and how best to manage the land; there is potential to maximise biodiversity and improve yields.

Dr Armstrong added: "This understanding becomes even more compelling when applied to areas that are very sunny that may also suffer water shortages. The shade under the panels may allow crops to be grown that can't survive in full sun.  Also, water losses may be reduced and water could be collected from the large surfaces of the solar panels and used for crop irrigation."

Explore further: Can butterflies cope with city life? Butterfly diversity in Kuala Lumpur parks

More information: Alona Armstrong et al. Solar park microclimate and vegetation management effects on grassland carbon cycling, Environmental Research Letters (2016). DOI: 10.1088/1748-9326/11/7/074016

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Shootist
1.9 / 5 (27) Jul 13, 2016
There are already more bureaucrats in the dept. of agriculture than there are actual farmers being "helped" by these worthless so-and-soes. We don't need any additional government agents in position of authority over free men and women.
krundoloss
4.4 / 5 (7) Jul 13, 2016
While no doubt is would be complicated, I like the idea of using the solar panels as shielding for plants, and somehow combining agriculture with Solar Farms.

I hope they are not concerned over temperature decreases in the shade of solar panels. Solar farms are not big enough to effect any real change, and if they do, it will probably just help offset the Warming trends anyway.
Eikka
5 / 5 (6) Jul 13, 2016
I hope they are not concerned over temperature decreases in the shade of solar panels.


Solar panels are darker than the ground, so they actually absorb more heat than without - it just doesn't reach the ground, instead the heat is transmitted to the surrounding air and the are around the solar farm experiences an effect similiar to the urban heat island where blacktop roads and roofs capture more sunlight than trees and grass.

A metallic coating could be applied to reflect infrared radiation back into space to match the original albedo of the ground, but it would affect cost and efficiency.
HeloMenelo
3.4 / 5 (10) Jul 13, 2016
There are already more bureaucrats in the dept. of agriculture than there are actual farmers being "helped" by these worthless so-and-soes. We don't need any additional government agents in position of authority over free men and women.

what's the difference, I R baboon, bureaucrats, shootist shot the potty miss or his antigoriilacle sock, they are all one and the same... ;)
Sheik_Yerbuti
Jul 13, 2016
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Surveillance_Egg_Unit
1.7 / 5 (18) Jul 13, 2016

A metallic coating could be applied to reflect infrared radiation back into space to match the original albedo of the ground, but it would affect cost and efficiency.
- Eikka

The future money paid into the "Carbon Credits" scam could and should be used for that purpose, instead of lining the pockets of AGW bureaucrats and tinhorn despotic leaders of third-world nations. That money doesn't reach the people anyway, for whom it's designed to help in those countries.

Whatever materials that are used on roads and roofs could be covered over by light colored materials to reflect the sunlight.
HeloMenelo
2.6 / 5 (5) Jul 13, 2016
Someone give him a tire swing or something. First to dance around on every thread, the monkey is bored!

i always reward him with bananas, he bites everytime :D
HeloMenelo
3 / 5 (8) Jul 13, 2016

A metallic coating could be applied to reflect infrared radiation back into space to match the original albedo of the ground, but it would affect cost and efficiency.
- Eikka

The future money paid into the "Carbon Credits" scam could and should be used for that purpose, instead of lining the pockets of AGW bureaucrats and tinhorn despotic leaders of third-world nations. That money doesn't reach the people anyway, for whom it's designed to help in those countries.

Whatever materials that are used on roads and roofs could be covered over by light colored materials to reflect the sunlight.

No, that money should rightfully be taken from OIL bureaucRats to enforce a cleaner future for Proven climate change and cancel out big filthy oil polluting the world with 100s of billions of tons of toxins.
HeloMenelo
2.7 / 5 (7) Jul 13, 2016
....o monkeyyyy... i am waiting for youuuuuu....
humy
4.5 / 5 (6) Jul 14, 2016
from the link:
"...
They found that solar parks altered the local climate, measuring cooling of as much as 5 degrees Centigrade under the panels during the summer ...
..."
yes, this is caused by something called a "shadow". Amazing! Well we learn something new every day!
carbon_unit
2.5 / 5 (19) Jul 14, 2016
I hope they are not concerned over temperature decreases in the shade of solar panels.


Solar panels are darker than the ground, so they actually absorb more heat than without - it just doesn't reach the ground, instead the heat is transmitted to the surrounding air and the are around the solar farm experiences an effect similiar to the urban heat island where blacktop roads and roofs capture more sunlight than trees and grass.
- Eikka

Yeah, they are looking into shade. Maybe next they will study the effect of "trees". ;)

Actually, it seems to me that we should try to avoid deploying panels over "natural" landscapes. I think that a good place to deploy large arrays is on larger buildings and their parking lots. Shopping centers, universities, industrial facilities, etc. Solar panels are probably on par with asphalt as far as heating effects, but you get power and covered parking.
Da Schneib
4.8 / 5 (16) Jul 15, 2016
Actually solar panels could reduce the harsh conditions of the desert; some places I agree should be clear and as untouched as possible, but a great number of solar panels could be put in deserts in the best places to put them, without compromising the biomes they'd cover. It might even turn out that more things could live under them.

But I do agree that we should cover human built structures with them first, @carbon_unit. From a practical standpoint the energy should be generated as close to where it's used as possible to minimize transmission losses.
knutsonp
5 / 5 (2) Jul 15, 2016
What about above the solar panel? A dark plate which converts only 12-18% of the energy hitting it into electricity, a substantial portion of the remaining 82-88% of the solar energy must show up as heat.
carbon_unit
1.3 / 5 (13) Jul 15, 2016
Da Schneib:
a great number of solar panels could be put in deserts in the best places to put them, without compromising the biomes they'd cover. It might even turn out that more things could live under them.
They could be the artificial reefs of the desert.

knutsonp:
What about above the solar panel? A dark plate which converts only 12-18% of the energy hitting it into electricity, a substantial portion of the remaining 82-88% of the solar energy must show up as heat.
I imagine that the heat would show up mostly as heated air above a panel where as dark ground (pavement) would store some heat and release it over night. Light ground would of course reflect more solar energy, so there'd be less heating. I've not heard much of solar panels that have both electrical and thermal collection capability. Must be problematic. Solar cells don't like heat, but if you're trying to capture heat too, you'd want them to get hotter.
antialias_physorg
4.4 / 5 (7) Jul 15, 2016
Actually solar panels could reduce the harsh conditions of the desert; some places I agree should be clear and as untouched as possible, but a great number of solar panels could be put in deserts in the best places to put them,

(the following is not disagreement. I think putting more solar panels in desert areas is a good strategy IF the issue below is taken into account.)

So should we put panels in desert areas:
From a production standpoint: yes
From a land use standpoint: yes
From an economic standpoint: maybe

The 'maybe' stems from the fact that once you have created electricity that's not all there is to it. You have to get it somewhere where it's going to be consumed. And transmission losses do figure in this, since desert areas are mostly rather far from places of major consumption (which, due to historic reasons, are almost exclusively places close to lush farmland - not deserts)
Eikka
3 / 5 (2) Jul 16, 2016
From a practical standpoint the energy should be generated as close to where it's used as possible to minimize transmission losses.


Then it's not going to be from solar panels, because a great deal of the use does not coincide with the generation in time and space. You can then choose between transmission losses from distant areas - 1 hour of difference from solar peak = 1000 miles transmission distance - or the efficiency loss and cost involved in storing solar energy in batteries or chemicals.

There's no optimal solution. It's devil if you do and damned if you don't.

In the conventional grid, demand is never more than about 200 miles from production and the losses are around 7%. In the renewable grid, that's going to have to grow to 2000 miles or more, which obviously introduces a whole new magnitude of transmission issues.
Eikka
not rated yet Jul 16, 2016
So should we put panels in desert areas:
From a production standpoint: yes
From a land use standpoint: yes
From an economic standpoint: maybe


From a practical standpoint: probably not. See the transmission problem above. Few live in the desert.

It's the same thing as with the DESERTEC project. Long transmission is both expensive and vulnerable to failure - unintentional or intentional. Crucial transmission lines crossing state and international borders are vulnerable to political climates and the thing that Europeans should have learned a good 200 years ago is that you just can't go stomping around the world with just your own interest in mind without stirring a hornet nest in terms of foreign diplomacy.

Da Schneib
4.4 / 5 (14) Jul 16, 2016
@Eikka never thinks anything will work.

This grows boring very quickly.
Eikka
4 / 5 (2) Jul 16, 2016
@Eikka never thinks anything will work.

This grows boring very quickly.


I only ever comment on things that have some sort of issues. Things that work don't need commenting on because there's nothing to add - except when people say they don't work, in which case I point out they do.

It's not my fault that the news and comments overall are sensationalist and overly optimistic hype.
antigoracle
1.6 / 5 (7) Jul 16, 2016
@Eikka never thinks anything will work.

This grows boring very quickly.

Only to mouth breathers. Now if you had a brain and then the will to use it, I can guarantee you, it would be quite the opposite.
gkam
1 / 5 (15) Jul 17, 2016
"Now if you had a brain "
----------------------------

Did you have no mother? Were you a feral kid?

Somebody needs to teach you some manners.
gkam
1.2 / 5 (15) Jul 17, 2016
The biggest effect of solar panels on the Earth is from the removal of the fossil-fueled monsters now polluting everything.
EnricM
3 / 5 (2) Jul 18, 2016
There are already more bureaucrats in the dept. of agriculture than there are actual farmers being "helped" by these worthless so-and-soes. We don't need any additional government agents in position of authority over free men and women.


OH, yes, The FREE(TM) Glory to Them!!

Just an insignificant tidbit of useless but fun to know information: Do you know that 55% of the UK's farmers income in 2015 came from EU subsidies. ;)

As I said: All Hail to the Glorious FREE!!!

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