University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota
Energy Transition Lab

The Energy Transition Lab (ETL) received a gift of $50,000 from Connexus Energy to fund research examining solar sites in Minnesota designed to also benefit pollinators, such as native bees. ETL is working closely with the Natural Capital Project (NatCap) and the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) on the work.

Pollinators are integral to 35% of the world’s crop production. The Minnesota Department of Agriculture calls pollinators “an irreplaceable public resource.” A recent peer-reviewed study, “Examining the Potential for Agricultural Benefits from Pollinator Habitat at Solar Facilities in the United States,” identified thousands of acres of pollinator-dependent crops in Minnesota located near the 489 MW of solar arrays (as of Dec. 2017) throughout the state.

This research aims to identify the net impacts of co-locating pollinator-friendly habitats with large scale solar farms. The many valuable benefits to providing pollinator-friendly ground cover at solar facilities seem to more than offset the costs. Benefits we’re examining include:

  • Increased solar panel efficiency from reduced ambient air temperatures
  • Increased biodiversity
  • Better soil quality, and reduced storm water runoff
  • Improved crop yield for surrounding cultivated land
  • Opportunities for additional revenue such as beekeeping
  • Higher tax revenue for local jurisdictions
  • As well as improved public perception of solar power resulting from more aesthetically and environmentally pleasing facilities.

This project will weave together many different threads of research, and some of the planned outcomes include:

  1. The Costs and Benefits of Solar in Land Management and Conservation
  2. Demystifying the Solar Farm Approval Process Concerning Ground Covers and Land Use
  3. Measuring Stormwater Runoff of Solar Farms
  4. Microclimate and Habitat on Solar Farms
  5. Property Value Impacts of Large Scale Solar
  6. and an Economic Impact Analysis of Solar+Pollinator Developments

We’ll post more here as the project progresses.

Image credit: Rob Davis & Heidi Natura

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