Solar farms not quite Utopia, new impact study finds
IMAGINE a field in the middle of nowhere covered in heliostats – the solar panels that form a “farm” on which energy is harvested.
Like robotic sunflowers‚ they have little mirrors that turn throughout the day to catch the sun.
As the global fight against fossil fuels rages on‚ these farms seem Utopian – until an image of water loss‚ birds crashing into panels and dust flying around emerges.
For the first time‚ a group of South African scientists has started looking at the collective impact that could result when many such farms spring up in an area.
“We acknowledge the huge benefits of wind and solar power‚ but we need to also understand the new forms of impact they could have‚” Professor Karen Esler said.
She supervised the research, published in the SA Journal of Science.
“Mainly of concern are loss of habitat‚ water loss‚ dust and the impact on bird life. Photovoltaic solar farms are being set up in the Karoo‚ and many more are planned.
Lead researcher Justine Rudman‚ of the University of Stellenbosch‚ looked at solar-power developments in two arid regions of South Africa – the Nama-Karoo and the Savanna – and interviewed experts for what the bigger picture could look like.
Environment impact assessments generally focus on the affect of an individual project.
“The footprints of those developments are relatively small, but collectively‚ the impact could be greater than we realise,” Esler said.
“Just like with fracking‚ you can do assessments on different sites‚ but one also needs to look at the landscape as a whole.”
Birds‚ for example‚ suffered major collision impact – with further research being done on this.
There was a visual dust impact, and water loss was being harnessed, because solar power needed to be near a water source.