Research in England shows that solar farms reduce local temperature and provide shade, enabling crops in hot and desert climates to flourish. By soaking up the sun to make electricity, solar farms also alter the local environment − changing the temperature and the diversity of plant species. How this affects soil productivity and the food supply is becoming increasingly important as thousands of solar farms are being built across the planet, and even more are planned. Research carried out in the temperate conditions of England shows that the temperature under solar panels is reduced by 5°C. While this may not be good for growing plants in a cool climate, it could be a major boon in hot and desert climates, where too much sunshine and heat kills plants. The research, reported in Environment Research Letters, was carried out in a large solar park in Swindon, southern England, by scientists from Lancaster University and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.The post Solar farms offer bonus for tropical crops appeared first on Climate News Network.
Using microclimatesThe scientists believe that the lessons learned could help countries gain benefits by using the microclimates created by solar farms to grow crops in cooler, shadier conditions. Dr Alona Armstrong, a terrestrial carbon cycling scientist at Lancaster University, says that 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,” she says. This is particularly important as solar parks take up more space per unit of power generated compared with traditional sources.
Dr Armstrong says: “Until this study, we didn’t understand how solar parks impacted on climate and ecosystems. This understanding becomes even more compelling when applied to areas that are very sunny and that may also suffer water shortages. “The shade under the panels may allow crops to be grown that can’t survive in full sun. Water losses may also be reduced, and water could be collected from the large surfaces of the solar panels and used for crop irrigation.” The scientists measured temperature, wind speeds, humidity, soil carbon, species diversity and other points of difference under the panels, between panels, and in control areas a distance from a solar farm. They found that the temperature under the panels averaged 5.2°C lower in summer because of the shading. There was also less difference between night and day temperatures. The soil was also drier, leading to less vegetation and fewer species, dominated by grass.
“Water losses may also be reduced, and water could be collected from the large surfaces of the solar panels and used for crop irrigation”