Solar parks have little effect on the natural environment in which they are built as compared to other types of energy production. They do, however, disrupt the landscape and can have an effect on flora and fauna ecosystems. By selecting a suitable natural location or a unique project design, unwanted effects can be avoided or at least minimized. A joint paper released by the German environmental organization Naturschutzbund (NABU) and the German solar energy association BSW-Solar specifies requirements for the design of environmentally sustainable photovoltaic ground-mounted facilities.

It begins with the location selection and discusses how nature and landscape conservation criteria can be factored into the decision-making process early on. Areas with high levels of emissions and low levels of nature protection should be selected from a conservation standpoint. Solar parks, on the other hand, are believed by NABU and BSW-Solar to add ecological value to such areas, especially if they were previously farmed conventionally.

Solar parks should never be established in wetlands of international significance (Ramsar areas), nature reserves, core and maintenance zones of biosphere reserves, or other legally protected biotopes, according to the two organizations. Local nature conservation organizations should be involved in the planning process from the start, and their expertise and recommendations should always be considered.

If solar plants have the potential to establish new habitats for endangered animal and plant species, they can be used to foster ground-breeding bird habitats and open-land habitats for flora and fauna.

Photovoltaic plants must be conceptually incorporated as a refuge for some threatened species, particularly in areas with a high value for the biotope network. Landscape fragmentation should be avoided at all costs.

Long-term monitoring

Sealing soil should make up no more than 5% of a total solar plant site, according to NABU and BSW-Solar. The installation should also allow for the widespread growth of natural vegetation or native, site-appropriate plants, as well as their treatment. The module rows should be installed in such a way that adequate precipitation infiltration is guaranteed.

In this case, the construction of a wetland biotope might be necessary depending on the region.

The plant area should be maintained extensively with grazing or mowing, taking into account the lack of shade, according to the report. Up to two mowings per year are recommended, depending on the vegetation. The first mowing should be done toward the end of the summer. As a result, plants can flourish and produce more fruit, while the insect habitat is maintained. The evolution of the natural equilibrium on the plant area should be reported on a regular basis, with appropriate long-term monitoring.

“We demonstrate that nature conservation and species protection will benefit directly from one another with the jointly established minimum standards for solar parks,” says NABU federal managing director Leif Miller. This will win points not only for species conservation but also for community acceptance of solar parks.

Carsten Körnig, managing director of BSW-Solar, said, “We want win-win solutions for nature and climate conservation.” “By adhering to the consistency requirements, we will prevent disagreements and streamline and expedite the approval process.”