Environmental Science Division (EVS)a Division of Argonne National Laboratory

EVS researchers examine the benefits of establishing pollinator habitat at solar energy facilities

September 5, 2018

With the rise in solar energy developments and in response to the population decline of pollinating insects such as wild bees and monarch butterflies, researchers in Argonne's EVS division are investigating solar energy development designs that are “pollinator-friendly.”

Looking at over 2,800 existing and planned utility-scale solar energy (USSE) facilities in the contiguous United States, they have found that the area under and around solar panels could provide an ideal location for the plants that attract pollinators. Developing pollinator habitat on solar facility sites could rehabilitate pollinator populations that play a crucial role in the national and global agricultural industries. Loss of such species could devastate crop production, food costs, and nutrition on a global scale.

This project, which is supported by the DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, is designed to examine the environmental benefits of pollinator habitat at solar energy facilities. “Solar‑sited pollinator habitat can help optimize the land-use efficiency of solar energy developments while not compromising solar panel efficiency,” said Lee Walston, ecologist in EVS and one of six project leads.

The EVS researchers first identified U.S. croplands that could benefit from pollinator habitat at nearby solar facilities, and now are starting a multi-year study to measure changes in pollinator communities at solar facilities in Minnesota that have established native vegetation. They also plan to look at other potential ecosystem service benefits of establishing pollinator habitat at solar facilities, such as soil and water conservation and carbon storage.

With more states recognizing the need to address pollinator population declines through legislation, more solar facilities are making the switch to pollinator-friendly areas.

This interactive map shows the amount of existing and planned utility-scale solar energy facilities by state. It also shows the amount of agriculture that depends on pollinators near those sites. Click map to view. [Source: Leroy Walston, Argonne National Laboratory]

Read the full article by Greer Russell.

Argonne researchers hope that we can rehabilitate bee and butterfly populations by allowing them to live at solar energy facilities.
Argonne researchers hope that we can rehabilitate bee and butterfly populations by allowing them to live at solar energy facilities. [Source: Argonne National Laboratory]
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portrait of Leroy Walston
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