Solar panels in California come with environmental concerns, concludes a recently published study conducted by scientists with the Carnegie Institution for Science and Stanford University.
Solar power is among the list of renewable energies that top the lists of policy makers in view of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and transitioning to a carbon neutral economy. And while in California the business is booming due to the sunny climate and the low prices of solar panels, this comes at the expense of the environment, say scientists with Stanford University and the Carnegie Institution for Science.
Power plants covering large-scale lands are the main concern of the study. Solar power generated by these power plants located in the Mojave Desert is beneficial indeed for industry and homes alike in terms of cutting down on fossil fuel energy. Nonetheless, solar power development linked to previously undeveloped lands spells trouble for ecosystems and biodiversity in these regions.
The majority of the solar panel power plants in California are developed precisely on highly sensitive lands, rich in wildlife driven away from the natural habitat or pushed towards significant population loss. Instead, the scientists propose, previously developed lands that have no other use at the moment should be the option for further large-scale solar power development.
According to the study findings, the ecological footprint of large-scale solar power projects could reach 27,500 miles. This spells havoc for natural wildlife habitat. Currently, of the 161 operating or planned solar power development projects, over half are built or will be located on scrublands or natural shrub areas. 15 percent of the solar power plants are built in developed areas, while another 28 percent are built on lands destined for agriculture.
Solar panels in California come with environmental concerns. Among them, lands destined for agriculture the use of which has been changed for the large-scale solar energy projects is problematic. Farmers are increasingly choosing to switch land use from food crops to energy crops or, as in this case, to electricity generating. Adding the unprecedented drought the state of California is currently facing adds to the reasons for which farmers choose to divert land use.
Rebecca Hernandez, lead author on the study and former ecologist with the Carnegie Institution stated:
“We see that big solar is competing for space with natural areas. We were surprised to find that solar energy development is a potential driver of the loss of California’s natural ecosystems and reductions in the integrity of our state and national park systems”.
Against this background, it is paramount that a middle way is found. Ecosystems are endangered by large-scale solar energy development. On the other hand, solar energy is crucial to the continuous efforts for a clean future, carbon neutral and with no fossil energy in side.
Photo Credits: Wikimedia