The first detailed study scrutinising how solar farms affect local micro-climate has been published by Lancaster University scientists.
The study focused on a large solar park near Swindon, which it monitored for a whole year.
The researchers found that the soil beneath the solar panels was up to 5°C cooler than unshaded ground in the same area. The effects, however, varied depending on the time of the day and season.
“Solar parks are appearing in our landscapes but we are uncertain how they will affect the local environment,” said Alona Armstrong, of Lancaster University’s Environment Centre, who led the study.
“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.”
The observed impact, if managed carefully, is not necessarily negative. More moderate temperatures at the height of summer may benefit many types of crops and improve soil water retention.
“The shade under the panels may allow crops to be grown that can’t survive in full sun,” Armstrong said. “Also, water losses may be reduced and water could be collected from the large surfaces of the solar panels and used for crop irrigation.”
However, the researchers acknowledged more work needs to be done to provide farmers and land managers with the necessary knowledge to choose the most suitable crops and develop the best practices to manage land shaded with solar panels. Proper understanding of the changes to the micro-climate caused by the solar panels could eventually improve yields, as well as maximise biodiversity.
The study, called 'Solar park micro-climate and vegetation management effects on grassland carbon cycling', was published in the latest issue of the journal Environmental Research Letters.