Insects such as bees and butterflies are at least partially responsible for pollinating nearly 75 percent of all crops consumed by humans. But as man-made environmental stressors – including pesticides and land development – have increased, insect pollinators have lost habitats and species have declined significantly.
A team of researchers from Argonne and the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory examined the potential benefits of establishing pollinator habitats at utility-scale solar energy (USSE) facilities to conserve pollinators and restore the ecosystem they provide.
Looking at more than 2,800 existing and planned USSE facilities in the contiguous U.S., researchers found that the area around solar panels could provide an ideal location for the plants that attract pollinators. Often filled with gravel or turf grass, this land otherwise goes unused. The team concluded that establishing native plant species – such as prairie grass or wildflowers – around solar panels would encourage steady population growth in the insect pollinators.
The researchers identified about 12 million hectors of land across the U.S. (more than 1,200 counties) that are suitable for pollinator habitat development.
The team found that by marrying solar installation with a pollinator habitat, we can increase the number of pollinators, which aids crop production in the vicinity. This also reduces maintenance costs for operators.
The researchers estimate that the value of pollinator habitats over 1.1 million hectors of such land to be between $1.5 billion and $3.2 billion to energy producers and farmers.