Exploring the Impact of Solar Energy on Biodiversity
The news has been dominated by the pandemic over the past few months and now, protests and looting are making front-page news. With such ground-shaking events at the forefront of everyone’s mind, it’s not hard to understand why World Environment Day and all the associated events have been flying under the radar. Still, we’d like to invite you to take a much-needed pause to participate in World Environment Day by considering the environmental impact of solar energy.
This year’s theme is biodiversity and while the environmental impact of solar energy is not often directly associated with combating declines in biodiversity, it does help to alleviate some of the major drivers of biodiversity loss, including pollution, climate change and the protection of endangered species.
Reducing Pollution with Large-scale Solar Energy Projects
In the first draft of The Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework from the Convention of Biological Diversity, the UNEP working group outlines 17 action times that will support their mission to put biodiversity on a path to recovery. While not the first item on the list, the fourth item, to reduce pollution by at least 50%, is clearly impacted by solar energy development, and its environmental impacts in two ways.
First, as a replacement energy source for heavy polluters and other fossil fuels with high levels of air pollution. In areas where solar energy replaces coal as a major source of fuel, pollution has reduced significantly with markedly cleaner air. This has not just a healthy impact on humans with fewer instances of air-quality related illnesses, but also, as can be assumed, the animals living in these areas. The environmental impact of solar energy on the quality of life for all lifeforms is immediate and even is lifesaving.
Second, solar panels do not pollute the air or ground underneath them and as a result, the large-scale solar projects create a zone of protected space from potential pollutants. Often, these projects become a multi-use sustainability site to generate clean power, to support pollinator populations and to serve as grazing sites for local sheep herds.
Solar Energy Protects the Environment of Endangered Species
Central to biodiversity recovery is protecting sites of particular importance to biodiversity. While that may seem counter to developing land for solar, protecting habitat is a requirement for the continuation of any solar project and a safeguard we pay close attention to. Before a project can proceed with construction, it must undergo extensive environmental surveys, which regulate the environmental impact of solar panel sites on local and migratory populations in addition to wetland habitat. In a recent project, the OYA Solar development team amended their solar project to meet the regulatory body stipulation that protects a particular bat species endemic to the area.
Combating Climate Change Through Solar Energy
The sixth action-target lists as key to biodiversity recovery – mitigating, adapting, and reducing the disaster risk of climate change as outlined in the Paris Agreement. As already established, solar development is key to combating climate change. In states such as New York where ambitious zero-carbon-emissions goals are a priority, legislators have recognized the environmental impact solar energy has in electrification and switching to clean energy sources. As a result, they continue to support the industry even while amidst growing unrest and a pandemic through measures such as the Accelerated Renewable Energy Growth and Community Benefit Act intended to stimulate growth and stability in the solar industry.
OYA Solar is actively developing in New York in the effort to support a clean, energy future with the knock-on effect of encouraging biodiversity recovery. Even during these cataclysmic times, we believe it is fundamental to focus on the positive environmental impacts of solar and other renewable energy, which is why we support initiatives such as the Investment Tax Credit and grant programs.
On World Environment Day, we ask that you consider supporting the solar industry as one more way we can put biodiversity on a path to recovery. Several organizations across the United States and Canada are making it easier for businesses and individuals to participate and take action. Simply click on one of the links below to see how you can help support renewables for a cleaner, healthier future for people and the planet.
Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA)
Coalition for Community Solar Access (CCSA)
New York Solar Energy Industries Association (NYSEIA)