In a groundbreaking study, researchers from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory and National Renewable Energy Laboratory have discovered burgeoning insect populations flourishing within the restored habitats of solar energy facilities.

The five-year field study observed two solar sites in southern Minnesota, managed by Enel Green Power North America. These solar facilities, constructed on retired agricultural lands, were reestablished with native plants, creating a thriving environment for pollinators.

According to Lee Walston, a renowned landscape ecologist and environmental scientist, “This research highlights the relatively rapid insect community responses to habitat restoration at solar energy sites. It demonstrates that, if properly sited, habitat-friendly solar energy can be a feasible way to safeguard insect populations and can improve the pollination services in adjacent agricultural fields.”

The global decline in insect biodiversity has been a pressing issue due to factors like habitat loss, pesticide usage, and climate change. The study’s findings suggest that smart land use changes, such as the restoration of insect habitats within renewable energy developments, could help reverse this trend.

Moreover, the expansion of photovoltaic (PV) solar energy is crucial for mitigating climate change, providing a carbon-neutral source of electricity. According to the DOE’s Solar Futures Study, approximately 10 million acres of land in the U.S. will be needed for large-scale solar development by 2050 to meet grid decarbonization and climate change goals. Disturbed lands like former agricultural fields make ideal locations for PV solar development.

The study also introduces the concept of agrivoltaics, which combines solar energy production with agricultural and vegetation management practices. This includes the establishment of habitats for insect pollinators, providing essential ecosystem services like pollination. Pairing solar energy facilities with habitat enhancement on previously disturbed lands presents an effective strategy to address both energy and biodiversity challenges.

This research underscores the potential of solar energy sites not only as a solution for renewable energy but also as a sanctuary for biodiversity, contributing to the restoration and conservation of insect populations.

Source: Argonne National Laboratory