A new study has concluded that solar farms can have a significant impact on local environmental conditions, achieving temperature reductions of as much as 5 degrees Centigrade beneath photovoltaic panels under certain circumstances.
Scientists from the UK have released the first detailed study into the effect that solar PV installations can have on local climate conditions, with a view to assessing their potential environmental impact and enabling farmers to make better land management decisions.
The research project undertaken by environmental scientists from Lancaster University and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology involved the monitoring of a sizeable solar farm situated near the southern English town of Swindon over a year-long period.
The study concluded that solar farms can have a significant impact on local climate conditions, reducing temperatures by to varying extents depending on the season and time of day.
According to the paper "Solar Park Microclimate and Vegetation Management Effects on Grassland Carbon Cycling," published by the research scientists in the journal Environmental Research Letters, solar installation can achieve reductions in temperatures beneath panels of as much as 5 degrees Centigrade during the summer.
Lancaster University's Dr. Alona Armstrong said the findings of the study will help fill in a major gap in our understanding of how the breakneck development of large-scale solar farms will affect the broader environment.
"Solar parks are appearing in our landscapes but we are uncertain how they will affect the local environment," said Armstrong. "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 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."
This heightened understanding could enable farmers and environmental scientists to better manage land situated within the immediate vicinity of solar farms, and pick the most suitable crops or plant species for anticipated environmental shifts.
"The shade under the panels may allow crops to be grown that can't survive in full sun," said Armstrong. "Also, water losses may be reduced and water could be collected from the large surfaces of the solar panels and used for crop irrigation."