Hungarian company SolServices has released a white paper outlining ways to make solar power plants compatible with nature and wildlife, from insects and amphibians to birds, bats, rodents and big game.
The “Professional Guide to the Development of the Next Generation Solar Parks” offers a completely new, practice-based methodology that explains how solar parks can be used in an ecological and nature-friendly manner and that can be recommended to investors.
Based on the company’s previous biomonitor studies, but expanded, the goal of the white paper is to ensure that solar parks built on large land areas fit the ecological balance of the area, taking into account as much as possible its ecological, biological and natural characteristics. .
Based on Hungary’s geography and solar radiation characteristics, solar energy has a very high electricity generation potential in the country. The installed solar power capacity at the end of 2019 was 1,144 MW, of which approximately 38% were household-sized units of less than 50 kW. The remaining capacity is divided between small plants of less than 0.5 MW and a few plants of a few megawatts.
Hungary’s new national energy strategy aims to increase solar capacity to 6,000 MW by 2030, with potential to rise to 12,000 MW by 2040. However, the country needs grid upgrades to meet the challenges of a decentralized and highly weather-dependent power generation structure. It also requires the expansion of large facilities.
The country’s ambitious goals can only be achieved in an “environmentally and nature-friendly way, taking into account as much as possible the ecological requirements and characteristics of the region,” SolServices states in the report.
“Agri-environment studies in recent years have shown that with appropriate land use and strengthening of plant communities, wildlife populations can be significantly increased in agricultural areas,” it adds, noting that solar parks can effectively support wildlife and increase biodiversity.
“A particularly positive factor is that, with proper planning and minimal care and measures, Aurinkopuisto can provide an almost undisturbed habitat for both flora and fauna for approximately 30 years after construction. A very small part of the area of the solar farm, less than 5%, is physically covered by various infrastructures (roads, inverters, support poles for the panels), and even in the parts of the area covered by panels, this proportion only covers about 50% of the total area. An area not covered by panels and partially shaded, i.e. about 95% of the solar park area, can be a versatile habitat for plants and animals.
The article discusses several methods that can be used to create suitable habitats to increase biodiversity and create a more natural vegetation cover that can benefit a wide range of wildlife, from insects and amphibians to birds, bats, rodents and large game.
For example, pollinating insects benefit from plants that flower in different seasons. “Furthermore, planting red clover, which has been shown to increase the presence of bumblebees and butterflies, is especially important among grass plants,” the magazine notes. Clematis and honeysuckle grown on fences can also benefit pollinators.
Frog-friendly solar parks can be considered if the conditions are suitable for a permanent or temporary surface water and wetland environment in the project area. “Reptiles prefer dense, bushy and lush undergrowth, so you should leave a strip of clean, uncut vegetation of at least 2 m along wetland areas (e.g. ditches). As well as providing easier and safer movement for animals, they also provide a home for many species of molluscs, worms and insects, the latter being suitable for amphibians.”
Rodent- and small game-friendly parks require sufficiently quiet and undisturbed habitats. Mosaic mowing and the creation of undisturbed green corridors for the free movement and protection of small animals are important in the care of green areas, the magazine advises. Such parks should have hedgerows and hedges – taking into account the requirements of emergency management guidelines – and hay bales of locally cut grass that can be used as daytime and winter shelter. Ducts or pipes, both on the surface and underground, can facilitate movement of chipmunks.
PV farms also provide a variety of uses for a variety of bird species. Some may use them as nesting and nesting sites, while others may use them as feeding or resting sites. “We can help different species to spread and reproduce in the project area by installing different caves or artificial nests or by planting bushes and trees, as long as this complies with the safety requirements of the solar farm and does not interfere with energy production,” the company says.
Similarly, solar parks can be potential habitats for certain species of bats. In Hungary, there are about 30 species of bats in several different biotopes, from urban environments to natural habitats and abandoned mines. Solar parks rich in insects can be suitable feeding places for bats.
Big game can be expected in fields and meadows near the forest edges. However, the presence of large game in solar parks should generally be minimized to protect both the animals and the equipment.
“Therefore, in the case of a big game-friendly park, we are talking about solar parks that help big game escape safely from the project area. For this, it is recommended to install jump exits for large game. In addition, we can also install nature guide structures in the solar park so that stray animals can find their way out as quickly as possible. These tools are particularly useful in the first two years after installation, but can also be a valuable feature of a solar farm thereafter.”