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Solar plants will occupy large tracks of land and impact biodiversity


Knowledge of the effects of solar plants on biodiversity is even more limited than in the previous cases, although there is evidence that their effect may be relevant due to the area they occupy (approximately 2 hectares for each installed photovoltaic MW, although this proportion is decreasing). Thus, the most modern solar plants, of 100-500 MW and 200 to 1000 hectares in area, cause very intense direct effects on the ecosystems in which they are built, given the absolute alteration of the vegetation and the soil to install the panels. 

Due to this need for space, and the interest in using flat areas, most of the large solar plants affect arid areas with minimal human use, and which often house animal and plant species of great interest. A worrying effect that is occurring in large semi-arid areas (e.g., in Mediterranean countries) is that the construction of photovoltaic plants competes for land with extensive agriculture, which is home to interesting bird communities and supports farmers and ranchers in the area. In these areas, moreover, the consumption of water by solar plants for cleaning panels or reflectors, and for cooling in the case of solar thermal plants, is limiting and generates serious environmental effects due to the shortage of the resource.

In addition to the loss of habitats associated with construction, relevant and little-known changes in the functioning of local ecosystems are added. Among them, the mortality of birds colliding with plant structures, and of invertebrates attracted by the brightness of the panels. Undoubtedly, solar plants will end up housing communities of plants and animals that are particular and highly determined by the new conditions generated. Thus, the existence of losing species and others benefited in some way by the new structures, changes in air and soil temperature, the generation of shade or the redistribution of water in the soil will lead to major biological changes. The general experience of other types of infrastructure shows that synanthropic species of low conservation interest often benefit. Against them, it is possible that the most affected species are those with stricter habitat requirements, and less tolerance to the presence of man and his infrastructures.

© Juan E. Malo
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