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The ecological impact of solar panels on wildlife

2023-09-27

The Ecological Impact of Solar Panels on Wildlife

The topic of the ecological impact of solar panels on wildlife may initially surprise some. However, upon closer examination, a deeper understanding emerges, revealing remarkable insights. Recent extensive studies underscore the significant positive influence of solar panels on animals. While solar panels were previously considered environmentally friendly, they must now be viewed in a broader context that grants them an extended environmental protection status.

Introduction: Understanding the Interactions Between Solar Panels and Wildlife

To dispel misunderstandings, it should be noted that this article does not focus on photovoltaic systems mounted on sloped roofs. Instead, it addresses installations in green spaces or fallow areas, including solar panels on green roofs in rural and urban areas.

Studies have shown that installing solar panels in green areas creates new habitat for plants and animals. Additionally, evidence indicates that endangered species are settling in these newly emerging natural communities. The interaction between solar panels and wildlife is highly positive. A significant advantage of solar panels compared to, for example, wind turbines is their lack of moving parts, providing a quiet environment. The soil beneath them is supplied with rainwater and protected from excessive sunlight, creating a livable habitat for many animal and plant species.

Case Studies: Positive and Negative Effects of Solar Panels on Various Animal Species

Where there is light, there is also shadow. This saying rarely fits better than when describing a solar panel. While the establishment of a solar park has very positive effects on some animal species, it is less enjoyable for others. Certain insect species may, for instance, be irritated by the color spectrum of solar panels, mistaking them for bodies of water.

As all solar fields are fenced, the movement space for wildlife such as deer, wolves, beavers, and others is restricted. This reduction in the animals' habitat may lead to a decline in their population. Some animal species may also feel disturbed by the regular maintenance of the installations.

On the positive side, the areas beneath the panels can develop naturally since they are not of interest to the operator, unless the facility is part of an agriculturally used area. Many birds use the protected space beneath solar panels for nesting. Furthermore, an overall increased concentration of insects, reptiles, and lizards has been observed. An exciting revelation is the settling of endangered species, listed on the red list, and their populations recovering. Various beetle species of Carabidae are among these species. As mentioned earlier, one of the advantages of solar panels is that they lack moving parts, posing no threat to animals and insects.

Strategies to Minimize Negative Effects on Local Fauna

One crucial strategy is to encourage the use of fallow land for the establishment of solar fields. Open-space installations not used for agriculture receive a 20% subsidy, with a maximum grant of €500,000. This incentive encourages non-agricultural businesses to create solar fields, thereby providing additional habitat for local fauna.

The described negative effects of fences can be mitigated to some extent by leaving open spaces in the lower part of the fence, allowing smaller animal species to move freely.

Additionally, some solar field operators refrain from using lawnmower robots, which can be deadly traps for smaller animals. Instead, sheep are increasingly employed, offering a more ecological form of field and lawn maintenance.

Future Perspectives: Development of Environmentally Friendly Solar Panels

A significant advantage of solar panels is that they already make a crucial contribution to energy supply in Germany and other parts of the world, reducing reliance on fossil fuels.

Development departments of manufacturing companies play a vital role in increasing environmental friendliness. They are working on ever more efficient and powerful solar cells. Currently, a considerable amount of energy is "lost" because cells can only harness a portion of solar energy. The efficiency currently stands at about 20%. A new, promising approach aims to increase efficiency to nearly 30%. The Perovskite solar cell is the hopeful contender. Other approaches involve circular solar cells or even movable solar cells that, inspired by sunflowers, align themselves with the sun. UCLA is researching this project and aims to utilize up to 90% of solar energy. A project at the University of New York achieved tangible results by using a special film to capture 82% of light energy. This is a record compared to the current state of technology. While it was often said until a few years ago that the potential of the effectiveness of solar panels was mature, we now look into the future with great optimism. Another exciting question will be the extent to which Artificial Intelligence (AI) will influence further developments. Already, AI plays a significant role in the manufacturing processes of solar cells. It is expected that its influence in this and many related areas will significantly increase.

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