It’s long been a point of contention between farmers, environmental activists and the solar industry: whether devoting agricultural land to utility- and commercial-scale solar farms is the best use of the arable land on those properties. A new partnership between Enel Green Power North American and the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) aim to find an answer to this vital question.
The two organizations will partner for three years to discover the environmental and energy-production benefits that vegetation can bring to a solar farm by studying Enel’s 150 MW Aurora (Minnesota) solar project. The goal is to determine best practices on solar farms to create pollinator-friendly practices so the surrounding farmland can still produce agricultural crops.
In addition, Enel and NREL will evaluate microclimate conditions, soil characteristics, soil-carbon recycling and the effects of vegetation on energy production.
The Aurora project is not a single site, but a group of 16 plants. Researchers say that the variety of environments contained within the one project make it the perfect location to do a study like this because it provides multiple microclimates to examine, which allows the researchers to see different conditions within the same project.