Solar parks

Rapid technological development in recent years has contributed to the development of photovoltaics, next to wind energy plants, as one of the most cost-efficient options to produce electricity from renewable energy sources. Next to roof-mounted systems, photovoltaic technology can also be used in solar parks on the ground, with peak power outputs of several megawatts. In the foreseeable future, especially the larger solar power stations will pay off even without extra funding based on the German Renewable Energy Act (EEG), while at the same time being easier to regulate than small roof-mounted systems.

Impacts on nature and landscape

The impacts of solar parks on nature and landscape are relatively low, compared to those of other power generation technologies. Nonetheless, the construction of them is always causing impacts on the environment depending on the characteristics of the site. The required fencing creates a barrier for animals, besides parts of the area will be sealed and shaded. Negative effects on birds and insects cannot be ruled out. Therefore protected areas and valuable habitats should not be taken into account when choosing sites. Through modifications or the setup of a local development plan, the construction of new solar parks can be steered using locations that are less sensitive in terms of nature conservation issues. The use of ecologically important sites should be prevented by compulsory environmental impact assessments.

Solutions

After several years of constructing solar parks on increasingly larger sites, the EEG currently stipulates size limitations up to a maximum of ten megawatts. A new solar park will be just funded through the EEG if it is constructed on a site that has been already sealed or affected by other means. However, it is not clear if the small selection of site categories in the EEG will be too restrictive, potentially leading to more conflicts with nature and species conservation, e. g. on military conversion areas. At any rate, it is reasonable to conduct environmental assessments right from the start of these projects. Solar parks in intensively used landscapes, might even provide benefits for nature, compared to other land uses, when carefully designed concepts of unsealing surfaces and supporting structural diversity, protecting ground-breeding bird species as well as planting activities with the aim of extensifying and ecologically enhancing these areas, are established.