Dual-use solar and beyond
Clean energy, habitat enhancement, conservation and agriculture coexist at multiuse solar farms
The primary purpose of solar is to reduce carbon emissions from electricity generation in order to mitigate climate change. Dual-use solar layers additional social, agricultural or ecosystem benefits into a solar farm. Wherever possible, Lightsource bp goes a step beyond dual land use, building multiuse solar projects on which clean energy generation, agriculture, habitat enhancement, conservation, and research share the land under and around the solar panels.
As long-term stewards of the land, we have developed a land management and biodiversity framework to support wildlife populations and habitat on our project sites. Through this framework, the solar farm becomes a resource for conservation, wildlife, agricultural opportunities and community benefit.
Solar farms inherently lend themselves to habitat enhancement and support, conservation, and biodiversity initiatives. At our solar farms, Lightsource bp creates a detailed vegetation plan in partnership with local and regional seed suppliers, extension agents, certified crop advisors and agronomists. A typical mix of plant species at an established Lightsource bp solar farm will include numerous species of grasses and flowers.
We carefully curate customized seed mixes and other vegetation so that our solar farms can serve as safe, supportive homes for beneficial insects, birds and other wildlife under our biodiversity framework. The durability and diversity of the plant species selected are weighed with other important factors, such as stormwater absorption and soil health. We look to support habitat creation, agricultural use, soil stabilization, carbon capture and resilience. The Lightsource bp team is engaged in the active monitoring of habitat conditions and quality at our solar farms as we work to achieve our biodiversity goals.
Biodiversity and solar resources
Pollinators such as butterflies, bees, birds and bats support plant reproduction and reinforce strong resilient ecosystems. Three-fourths of the world’s flowering plants and about 35 percent of the world’s food crops depend on pollinators to reproduce, according to the USDA. Some scientists estimate that one out of every three bites of food we eat exists because of animal pollinators. Habitat loss, climate change, and pesticide use have caused a great decline in pollinator populations.
To help mitigate this loss of pollinators, Lightsource bp is creating and managing vegetation to support pollinator populations at many of our solar farms. There is large potential for co-located pollinator habitat to deliver ecosystem and agricultural benefits on solar farms – yielding benefits for a range of stakeholders, from solar developers to farmers to surrounding communities.
Case study: Monarch butterflies to find crucial habitat at Conway Solar
Partner: Arkansas Monarch Conservation Partnership
Study: Pollinator Habitat Aligned with Solar Energy (PHASE)
Study: Examining the Potential for Agricultural Benefits from Pollinator Habitat at Solar Facilities in the United States
Integrating solar energy and agriculture with agrivoltaics
Lightsource bp is actively working to integrate agriculture on solar projects across the US. At several sites, sheep graze on our custom seed mixes, designed for solar farm grazing, along with supporting biodiversity. We thoughtfully review the nutritious qualities of the plants selected for livestock, along with the nectar resources of flowers for pollinators, in the final planting mixes.
Research has shown that managed grazing simultaneously works to improve soil health and foster healthy ecosystems while managing vegetation around the solar panels through natural, effective means. As the sheep graze, they trample manure, urine, and old plant matter into the earth. The plant matter decomposes, and together with the animal waste, it fertilizes and rejuvenates the soil.
Solar grazing helps strengthen rural economies, too. Our partners include landowners, neighbor farmers and specialty targeted grazing service providers. Grazing sheep at a solar farm contributes dairy, meat, and wool to the locally sourced, renewable farm market.
Partner: American Solar Grazing Association
Study: Managed sheep grazing can improve soil quality and carbon sequestration at solar photovoltaic sites
Factsheet: Solar & Agricultural Land Use
Factsheet: Solar & Multiuse Farming
In the news: Sheep are the solar industry’s lawn mowers of choice, Wall Street Journal
Improving soil health and sequestering carbon on solar farms
We aim to create a healthy, resilient and full cover of plant species over the ground at our solar farms. We use agronomic science to choose seed mixes that improve soil quality, stability and water holding capacity.
When selecting plants for our solar facilities, we consider carbon capture potential as well. We choose deep rooted plants to transfer atmospheric carbon into the soil, along with partner species, such as nitrogen fixing plants to support them. When the root systems decompose, they become carbon-rich soil, which can remain underground for thousands of years. In this way, solar farms can act as “carbon sinks,” sequestering atmospheric CO2 underground. We are conducting soil testing at several of our US solar projects to measure change in soil carbon over time.
Multiuse solar at Lightsource bp
May 16, 2023
Supporting sheep and local biodiversity at Elm Branch and Briar Creek solar farms
Agrivoltaics in Texas
Apr 13, 2023
Researching the benefits of pollinator conservation at Bellflower Solar
Habitat enhancement in Indiana
Feb 07, 2023
Solar farm, safe haven: Monarch butterflies to find crucial habitat at Conway Solar
Arkansas Monarch Conservation Partnership
Nov 29, 2022
Video: Meet families raising sheep on solar farms
Solar grazing brings new hope to America's farmers
Oct 18, 2022
Boosting biodiversity with pollinator habitat enhancements at Black Bear Solar
Pollinator conservation in Alabama
Aug 06, 2022
Solar farm, living laboratory: Lightsource bp’s Nittany solar projects in Pennsylvania
Learn about research at our sites
Feb 14, 2022
Preserving habitat and integrating agriculture at Impact Solar
Habitat enhancement & agrivoltaics in Texas
Oct 07, 2021
Restoring prairie and sinking carbon in Colorado
Sinking carbon on solar farms: A new kind of PV + Storage
Aug 17, 2021
First Lightsource bp U.S. agrivoltaics program launches in Pennsylvania
Solar grazing is a win-win-win
Learn more about our responsible solar approach to environmental sustainability
Lightsource bp’s model is to develop, own and operate our solar farms throughout their full life cycle. With solar farms having a life span of around 40 years, it’s important to us to be stewards of the land and long-term partners of local communities.