New guide to improve biodiversity of PV projects in Australia

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From pv magazine Australia

The Community Power Agency said its new guide offers strategies and practical methods for developers of large-scale PV projects so they can handle land-use conflicts and adopt regenerative farming techniques, including “conservoltaics” and “agrivoltaics.”

The group in New South Wales said the Building Better Biodiversity on Solar Farms Guide will help solar projects to meet new and emerging drivers for better environmental performance and stewardship of the sites they lease or acquire.

“We know from projects being developed in Asia, Europe, the US and now emerging in Australia, that conservation and agriculture don’t need to come off second best to renewable energy,” said guide co-author Heidi McElnea, the regional coordinator of Community Power Agency.

The guide calls for developers, landowners, and consultants to adopt a conservoltaic approach, which combines nature conservation and solar systems, to leave the natural environment at solar project sites in a measurably better state.

Eric Nordbert, a University of New England wildlife ecologist who contributed to the guide, said solar farms can improve biodiversity, similar to artificial reefs in aquatic ecosystems.

“They create structural complexity in the environment, offering shelter and habitat for wildlife,” he said. “Solar panels provide patches of sun and shade.”

Nordbert said conservoltaics and agrivoltaics are emerging as effective strategies to maximize land-sharing among industries.

“Conservoltaic and regenerative systems offer additional benefits to solar farms by reducing solar panel degradation, ambient temperatures, and dust accumulation, while simultaneously providing habitat for native wildlife,” he said. “Studies in Europe and the US have demonstrated that solar farms with native vegetation and wildflowers under the panels support more biodiversity than arable fields servicing both native plant communities and adjacent agricultural activities through increased numbers of bees, butterflies and other pollinators.”

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The guide says solar farms can benefit from ecosystem services provided by a conservoltaic approach, including the reduction of heat and dust, which negatively affect PV panel efficiency, along with erosion prevention, which can damage infrastructure.

If the hosting of solar infrastructure is to be combined with grazing, strategic planning needs to start early to determine how to make the most of these collaborative land uses.

Guide co-author David Carr, the founder and director of environmental services specialist Stringybark Ecological, said that by integrating biodiversity considerations from the start, solar developers and landowners can achieve substantial benefits.

“This includes minimising negative impacts, fostering on-site biodiversity enhancement and collaborating with neighbouring communities to bolster local biodiversity,” he said.

The guide suggests such an approach could also streamline the approval process by exceeding current legislated requirements, while also building constructive relationships with host communities and reducing land-use conflicts.

The guide focuses on the New England Tablelands region in northern New South Wales, but Carr said its principles will be widely applicable.

“We hope this guide will also provide a basis for action for other regions where extensive solar arrays and other infrastructure are being planned and developed,” he said.

The Building Better Biodiversity on Solar Farms Guide has been funded by The Foundation for Rural & Regional Renewal and will be launched in collaboration with Glen Innes Natural Resources Advisory Committee and Southern New England Landcare.

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