How Large Scale Solar is Creating Green Space

Under the panels, a new ecosystem opportunity exists.


Solar energy is one of the most promising sources of renewable power in the world. It can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, lower electricity costs, and create jobs. But solar farms also have another benefit that is often overlooked: they can provide habitat and sustainability for plants and animals under the panels.

How Solar Farms Can Support Biodiversity

Solar farms typically cover large areas of land with photovoltaic (PV) panels that convert sunlight into electricity. These panels can create shade and reduce evaporation, which can help conserve water and soil. They can also create microclimates that are cooler and more humid than the surrounding areas, which can attract different species of flora and fauna.

Some solar farms are designed to integrate native vegetation and wildlife habitats under the panels, creating what are called “agrivoltaics” or “solar sharing”. These systems can increase crop yields, reduce water use, and enhance pollination and pest control. They can also provide food and shelter for birds, insects, reptiles, mammals, and other animals that can coexist with the solar infrastructure.

One of the methods used to integrate native vegetation and wildlife habitats under the solar panels is to select plant species that are adapted to the local climate and soil conditions, and that can tolerate the partial shade and reduced rainfall caused by the panels. For example, in Colorado, the NextEra Energy Resources Solar Garden planted a mix of native grasses and wildflowers that provide food and shelter for pollinators and other animals. According to a study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), this approach can increase the biodiversity of plants and insects by up to 130% compared to conventional solar farms that use gravel or turf grass under the panels.

Another method is to design the solar farm layout and infrastructure to minimize the disturbance and fragmentation of the natural habitat, and to facilitate the movement and migration of wildlife. For instance, in North Carolina, the Strata Solar company installed wildlife corridors and fencing around their solar farms to allow deer, foxes, and other animals to pass through safely. They also left some areas of the land untouched to preserve the existing trees and wetlands. A survey by the University of North Carolina found that these measures helped to maintain the diversity and abundance of birds, mammals, and amphibians on the solar farm sites.

Creating solar farms that support biodiversity also involves some engineering and design challenges, such as finding the optimal height, tilt, and spacing of the panels to balance the energy production and the plant growth or managing the potential conflicts between wildlife and the solar equipment. Some of the solutions that have been developed to address these challenges include using bifacial panels that can capture light from both sides and allow more sunlight to reach the ground or using sensors and cameras to monitor and deter any unwanted visitors, such as rodents or birds, that could damage the wires or cables. Moreover, some solar farms have incorporated innovative technologies, such as robotic mowers or drones, to maintain the vegetation and monitor the wildlife without harming them or disrupting their habitat.

Examples of Solar Farms That Are Creating Green Spaces

There are many examples of solar farms that are using the space under the panels for habitat and sustainability. Here are some of them:

  • The Solar Sanctuary project in Minnesota is a collaboration between Fresh Energy, Audubon Minnesota, and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. It aims to establish best practices for planting native flowers and grasses under and around solar arrays, creating habitat for pollinators, birds, and other wildlife.
  • The Kamuthi Solar Power Project in India is the world’s largest solar farm, covering 10 square kilometers with 2.5 million PV modules. The project has planted more than 100,000 trees and shrubs under and around the panels, creating a green oasis in the arid landscape.
  • The Cochin International Airport in India is the world’s first airport to be fully powered by solar energy. The airport has installed more than 46,000 PV panels on its premises, covering 45 acres of land. The airport has also planted organic vegetables and medicinal plants under the panels, which are harvested and sold to local communities.
  • The NextEra Energy Resources Solar Garden in Colorado is a 10-megawatt solar farm that covers 80 acres of land. The project has partnered with the Butterfly Pavilion, a nonprofit organization that promotes invertebrate conservation, to create a habitat for butterflies, bees, and other pollinators under the panels.


Solar energy is not only a clean and renewable source of power, but also a way to create green spaces that can support new biodiversity and sustainability. By using the space under the panels for habitat and agriculture, solar farms can enhance the ecological and social benefits of solar energy. This can also help improve the public perception and acceptance of solar farms, as they can demonstrate their positive impact on the environment and the community.