A new study by Oregon State University has found that shade provided by solar panels increased the abundance of flowers under the panels and delayed the timing of their bloom, both findings that could aid the agricultural community.
The study, believed to be the first that looked at the impact of solar panels on flowering plants and insects, has important implications for solar developers who manage the land under solar panels, as well as agriculture and pollinator health advocates who are seeking land for pollinator habitat restoration.
The findings are being released at a time when some states, such as Minnesota, North Carolina, Maryland, Vermont and Virginia, have developed statewide guidelines and incentives to promote pollinator-focused solar installations.
“The underside of solar panels is typically managed to limit the growth of plants,” said Maggie Graham, a faculty research assistant at Oregon State and lead author of the paper. “My thought coming into this research was can we flip that? Why not plant under solar arrays with something beneficial to the surrounding ecosystem, like flowers that attract pollinators? Would insects even use it? This study demonstrates that the answer is yes.”
That's very good news because pollinating insects aid in the reproduction of 75 percent of flowering plant species and 35 percent of crop species globally. Alongside this, solar photovoltaic installation in the U.S. has increased by an average of 48 percent per year over the past decade, and current capacity is expected to double again over the next five years, the researchers say.
The increased demand for solar panels leads to an interest in the field of agrivoltaics, where solar energy production is combined with agricultural production, such as planting agricultural crops or grazing animals, on the same land. And, of course, pollinator friendly flowers and plants.