Solar Energy Development Is Threatening Natural Areas

Posted: Oct 20 2015, 9:52pm CDT | by , in News | Latest Science News

Solar Energy Development is Threatening Natural Areas
This is a typical solar generating installation. /CREDIT: Rebecca Hernandez
  • Solar Energy as a Viable Alternative still uses Too Much Land

Solar energy as a viable alternative to fossil fuels still uses too much land for it to be feasible.

The war against climate change has entered a most crucial stage. Now finally when the clues are too many that point towards widespread destruction of the environment, the global leaders have sat up and are taking notice.

Such renewable resources and sources of energy as solar energy may be the wave of the future. But it does not come for free. Nothing does in this life. The problem is the natural habitat which gets destroyed in the process. The large scale installation of panels of solar cells leads to a use of wide expanses of land which could be better employed for crop cultivation.

Large tracts of land are utilized for solar energy harvesting. But one thing which is ignored in this greed is that the land remains underutilized.

Especially the areas where vegetation could be grown are lying barren and are being willfully ignored. Thus the profits obtained from one end are being lost from other uses to which the land could be better put.

The analysis into this matter is still not complete. More studies need to be conducted before we have a complete picture of the issue at hand.

A new study from Carnegie's Rebecca R. Hernandez (now at UC-Berkley and Lawrence Berkeley National Lab), Madison K. Hoffacker (now at UC-Riverside's Center for Conservation Biology), and colleagues was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Over 161 sites where solar energy is harvested were examined in this new study. The result was that their impact was found to be considerable despite the cover-up by the environmentalists.

Normally these sites generate one megawatt of energy. This can light up approximately 165 residential units. The vast number of sites are located in scrublands. 28% are situated in crop grounds and meadows. 15% are to be found in advanced areas. And only a measly 19% are in deserts and wastelands.

There is photovoltaic technology and concentrating solar power technology. The former uses superconductors while the latter employs mirrors to focus the sunlight on an object of choice. Were these methods used in developed areas they could meet the requirements of city dwellers in California many times beyond the necessary limits.

"California, as an early adopter of solar energy, is a model system for understanding the complex siting decisions made by all parties--from developers, to governmental agencies, to stakeholders and communities--involved in utility-scale solar energy development," remarked Hernandez.

"Solar energy in developed areas, or for example on contaminated lands, would have great environmental co-benefits, but this is not what is being emphasized. Instead, we see that 'big solar' is competing for space with natural areas. Knowing this is vital for understanding and creating predictions of a rapidly changing global energy landscape."

Solar cells on polluted land is a better choice than affixing them on virgin soil that could be better utilized for other purposes. The scrupulosity involved in selecting the special sites for solar panels is something that will have to be looked into in the future. The shift from planting crops to harvesting the sun’s power has to be taken with care.

Kara Moore, an applied ecologist at the Center for Population Biology at UC-Davis, who has conducted landmark experimental studies on effectiveness of rare species mitigation within a utility-scale solar energy facility stated, "This study gives policy-makers clear guidance on the great potential we have to site utility-scale renewable energy more sustainably by building it into our existing human-affected landscapes. By doing so we benefit by simultaneously increasing the efficiency of renewable energy systems and by avoiding unnecessary impacts to our precious remaining natural areas."

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/20" rel="author">Sumayah Aamir</a>
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