The first detailed study scrutinising how
solar farms affect local micro-climate has
been published by Lancaster University
The study focused on a large solar park
near Swindon, which it monitored for a
whole year.
The researchers found that the soil
beneath the solar panels was up to 5°C
cooler than unshaded ground in the same
area. The effects, however, varied
depending on the time of the day and
“Solar parks are appearing in our
landscapes but we are uncertain how they
will affect the local environment,” said
Alona Armstrong, of Lancaster
University’s Environment Centre, who led
the study.
“This is particularly important as solar
parks take up more space per unit of
power generated compared with
traditional sources. This has implications
for ecosystems and the provision of
goods, for example crops, and services,
such as soil carbon storage.”
The observed impact, if managed
carefully, is not necessarily negative.
More moderate temperatures at the height
of summer may benefit many types of
crops and improve soil water retention.
“The shade under the panels may allow
crops to be grown that can’t survive in
full sun,” Armstrong said. “Also, water
losses may be reduced and water could
be collected from the large surfaces of the
solar panels and used for crop irrigation.”
However, the researchers acknowledged
more work needs to be done to provide
farmers and land managers with the
necessary knowledge to choose the most
suitable crops and develop the best
practices to manage land shaded with
solar panels. Proper understanding of the
changes to the micro-climate caused by
the solar panels could eventually improve
yields, as well as maximise biodiversity.
The study, called ‘Solar park micro-
climate and vegetation management
effects on grassland carbon cycling’, was
published in the latest issue of the journal.