The VIII Solar Forum, organised by the Spanish Photovoltaic Union, UNEF, was the setting yesterday for the presentation of two studies, one carried out by the environmental studies company EMAT and the other by the University of Castilla-La Mancha (UCLM), which demonstrate the positive impact that photovoltaic plants have on the biodiversity of the areas where they are installed.
The first of these, presented by Santiago Martín Barajas, director of EMAT, analyses the biodiversity of birds and other species of fauna in three solar photovoltaic installations. As he explained, in one of the plants, located in the municipality of Mula (Murcia), the environmental setting was practically identical inside and outside the boundaries of the park, without any negative impact; and in another of the facilities studied, in Puertollano, “there was more richness of fauna in the plant” than outside, in his own words.
As a conclusion of EMAT’s research, Santiago Martín Barajas pointed out that “large photovoltaic installations, of tens or hundreds of hectares, can become habitats for some animal species”. “What I think is most interesting is that large solar parks can be an opportunity for biodiversity” because “we have noticed, depending on the environment, that they are places where there really is fauna”, he added.
He also pointed out that it is essential for there to be agreement: to choose the site well and not those that have an intrinsic environmental value, and, furthermore, that wildlife management is done well, in an appropriate and sustainable manner both in the solar plants and in the farms where they are developed, in line with UNEF’s recommendations.
Along these lines, the main results of the study carried out by the University of Castilla-La Mancha, which analyses soil, vegetation cover and fauna, conclude that, over time, the soil of the installation, and to a greater extent the soil under solar trackers, evolves towards an intermediate state of transition, tending towards an ecotone between agricultural systems and forest ecosystems, clearly differentiating itself from herbaceous crops and coming closer to more stable natural systems.
He adds that after the construction of a photovoltaic plant, the vegetation recovers, adopting the floristic composition of the surroundings of the installation, so that a richer and more diverse transitional ecosystem, with characteristics similar to natural ecotones, is formed in the inner limits of a solar park.
With regard to fauna, the report, limited to Castilla-La Mancha, states that the abandonment of agricultural use on the land of the installations and the maintenance of natural spontaneous vegetation cover offers wide areas of refuge for entomofauna, which generates important benefits for insectivorous faunal groups such as bats, reptiles, amphibians, birds (whose basic diet is based on coleoptera, orthoptera or lepidoptera).
In the same way, a drastic reduction in the use of phytosanitary products generates important benefits for animal populations, recovering the normal structure of food chains through the development of producers.
In short, it concludes that photovoltaic installations can be used by wildlife as a refuge in various situations, both naturally through vegetation and artificially by installing nest boxes, or using the plant’s own infrastructure, in line with UNEF’s recommendations.
It should be remembered that the secondary functions that can be developed in a photovoltaic plant include both the use or control of vegetation through grazing and beekeeping, among others.
In relation to all this, UNEF is going to imminently disseminate a Code of Best Practices to maximise the positive impact that the installations have on the municipalities where they are installed. “Photovoltaic energy is the most sustainable energy”, says Jose Donoso, General Director of UNEF. “We are the guarantee of a better future. It is essential that companies, institutions and citizens collaborate together in the success of a fair and sustainable transition”, he points out.
Jose Donoso also highlighted the success stories in photovoltaic installations that are carried out in collaboration with the municipalities themselves and the Certification of Excellence for sustainability and the conservation of biodiversity in photovoltaic plants that the Association has launched this year with the aim of promoting and recognising projects carried out under the best criteria of social and environmental integration.
After the presentation of the two studies, the 8th Solar Forum hosted two successive round tables related to these issues. The first was on ‘How does society perceive photovoltaic technology’ and was attended, in addition to Santiago Martín Barajas, by Asunción Ruiz, Executive Director of SEO/BirdLife, Sergio López de Castro, Sales Director & Team Leader of Business Unit Solar Energy at Fronius; Pablo Otín, CEO of Powertis, and Carlos Martínez, Sales Manager Iberia & CIS and Emerging Markets at GoodWe Europe GmbH.
Regarding the impact on the landscape and the environmental impact, they agreed that the installations are “getting better and better” and that the cause of the confusion and unease generated in part of the population is that there are currently many projects in the pipeline. This is one of the reasons why they all agreed to speed up the processes so that the administration discards the processes, which are isolated cases, that do not guarantee good environmental or social criteria and those that do can move forward.
In relation to the studies presented, all agreed that renewables, managed under the right conditions, have the potential to contribute to biodiversity and improve the natural environment of the areas in which they are implemented. The speakers conveyed to the audience that renewables are indeed necessary. In this sense, they agreed that it is necessary to move forward and none of them suggested that measures such as a freeze on renewables or moratoriums would be viable. This idea was repeated in the following round table discussion on ‘The socio-economic contribution of photovoltaics to rural Spain’.
Participants included Rosa Melchor, Mayor of Alcázar de San Juan; José Antonio Redondo Rodríguez, Mayor of Trujillo; María Trinidad Navarro, Business Development Director at Sotosolar; Javier Alejandre Las Heras, Renewable Energy Technician at the Union of Small Farmers and Cattle Ranchers; Juan Jose Roldán, Director of Renewables at ENGIE, and Miguel Solchaga, Partner at Metyis.
Both Rosa Melchor and José Antonio Redondo Rodríguez expressed their satisfaction with the positive impact that the experience of having photovoltaic plants has had on their municipalities. Both also expressed their opinion that it is necessary for inland Spain to continue to make progress in the deployment of solar energy, as long as the projects are based on environmental and social criteria.
In addition to showing their willingness, they stated that these areas of the country have, due to their territorial characteristics and solar resources, many opportunities to develop in this sense and asked for the support of the administration, as, they added, it also boosts their industrial development.
Javier Alejandre Las Heras, Renewable Energy Technician of the Union of Small Farmers and Stockbreeders, drew attention to the great role played by photovoltaics in the modernisation of agriculture and stressed that both sectors are allies.
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