Solar farms generate clean energy, but their environmental benefits need not end there. The land under and around solar arrays can be used to create pollinator gardens or grow perennial grasses.
These plants help stormwater filter slowly into the soil, which can reduce run-off and erosion. Their roots also trap excess fertilizer from nearby farm fields before it enters streams and rivers.
“So now we have something that can function as green infrastructure in rural areas, in rural watersheds,” says Brian Ross, vice president of renewable energy at the nonprofit Great Plains Institute.
His group is part of a team studying these benefits at five solar farms around the country. They’re monitoring rainfall and soil moisture and modeling how fast excess water soaks into the ground during extreme storms.
They’re finding that with the right designs, the land under solar panels can capture a lot of water, even during extreme rain.
“You can actually get to an infiltration standard for even up to a 100-year storm on some of these sites,” Ross says.
That not only helps the property owner but the local environment, too.
So Ross says quantifying and communicating these benefits can encourage more people to support solar in their communities.
Reporting credit: Sarah Kennedy/ChavoBart Digital Media