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Article | Environmental Science

Argonne experts featured at solar symposium

EVS scientists made notable contributions to the inaugural Symposium on Solar Power and Wildlife/Natural Resources sponsored by DOE’s Solar Energy Technologies Office and aimed at reducing barriers to solar energy deployment.

Achieving decarbonization goals to address our global climate and energy needs will require significant continued investments in solar energy. For example, a recent DOE Solar Futures Study report to which Argonne EVS researchers contributed projected a 10-fold increase in solar energy development over the next decade to achieve U.S. decarbonization goals. To sustain development of solar energy resources, owners and operators of solar facilities need to overcome numerous hurdles, including balancing solar development with local community interests, other land uses, and sustainability of wildlife and natural resources.

EVS scientists made notable contributions to the Symposium on Solar Power and Wildlife/Natural Resources held December 1–3, 2021, and hosted by the American Wind and Wildlife Institute (AWWI), soon to be the Renewable Energy Wildlife Institute (REWI). The symposium and EVS members’ participation in symposium planning were sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO).

This inaugural event allowed experts to exchange ideas about how to reduce ecological barriers to solar energy deployment in order to achieve U.S. climate goals while meeting the nation’s energy demands. The symposium brought together experts and stakeholders from academia, industry, conservation groups, and consulting and public agencies to review the state of the science, identify research gaps, and prioritize questions.

Participants discussed how best to balance conservation with a rapidly growing solar market, focusing on evaluating and mitigating impacts on wildlife and their habitats and managing land and water resources. More than 400 individuals from across the world attended.

Lee Walston, an ecologist in EVS, was invited to speak as one of four experts on a panel titled Evaluating and Mitigating Impacts on Wildlife and Their Habitats and Water.” The session summarized the state of the science on direct and habitat-related risks of solar power to birds and other wildlife species and addressed approaches to model population and cumulative impacts to various species of concern. The science on how birds and other wildlife are impacted by and interact with solar facilities has come a long way; we need this information to better understand how future solar deployment can work synergistically with wildlife and habitat conservation,” Walston said.

Yuki Hamada, a biophysical scientist in EVS, was invited to speak as one of three experts on a panel addressing Siting: Science, Tools, and Solutions,” which comprised an expert review of siting tools and strategies to minimize impacts on wildlife and habitat and a discussion of the challenges and opportunities associated with existing tools and how such tools could continue to improve. Current tools are mostly intended for spatially and ecologically coarse-scale screening using static maps. Future climate change impacts are rarely considered. More dynamic tools are needed that allow users to examine detailed and experiment implications of their solar projects, including cumulative impacts, at early planning stages,” Hamada said.

Argonne scientists including Hamada, Walston, Heidi Hartmann, Adam Szymanski, Nicola Ferrier, Jim Kuiper, Katherine Szoldatits, Max Zvyagin, Thomas Brettin, and Arvind Ramanathan also presented their work on the following topics: AI-camera system development for avian-solar monitoring, solar-pollinator habitat monitoring, ecological performance monitoring, online planning tools for solar siting, and desert dry stream mapping.

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Monitoring workflow of Argonne’s AI-camera system, one of the technologies addressed at the symposium, aims to provide near-real-time data to answer questions on avian-solar interactions that current methods cannot. [Source: Argonne National Laboratory]

Walston and Hartmann also helped to shape the symposium by serving on the planning committee and the subcommittees for evaluating and mitigating impacts on wildlife and their habitats, land management and wildlife compatibility, and water resource management.

Argonne and the other participant’s efforts to reduce ecological barriers to solar deployment earned an acknowledgement from keynote speaker Kelly Speakes-Backman, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, who referenced projects by Argonne researchers, calling Argonne an awesome national lab”!

According to Hamada, The symposium offered an excellent opportunity for an open and respectful discussion of the challenges from a variety of perspectives: industry, conservation, regulatory, research. We know there will be differences in opinions and priorities, but there are many things we agree on. I’m excited to see this type of event happening for solar. I hope this is the first of many events in which we can continue the conversation.”