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Scientists select new solar sites

A new study in America has highlighted the importance of selecting sites for solar farms that don’t impinge on farmland.

With a growing global population, the agriculture industry has a pivotal role to play in finding ways to increase production – in a sustainable fashion. And it can’t afford to lose arable land to other industries.

So researchers at the University of California (UC) focused on finding alternative locations in California’s Central Valley.

“When a piece of land is developed for a solar installation, it is very unlikely to be reverted into agricultural land, even when the lease to the solar company eventually runs out. That’s because flattening and compacting the land, as well as the long-term application of herbicides to keep the site clear of weeds, spoils the land for future farming. For this reason, it is important that we explore alternative sites for new developments as the industry continues to grow,” explained Michael Allen, a professor emeritus of plant pathology and biology at UC Riverside.

The team identified suitable spots for solar installations – equivalent to 183,000 football fields (8,400 square km) – including land that is ‘too salty for crops to grow’ and ‘reservoirs and irrigation channels that can accommodate floating solar panels’. And these areas could meet California’s solar demands many times over.

“The study highlights the wealth of sites for solar energy generation that don’t conflict with farmland or protected areas,” added Rebecca Hernandez, assistant professor of earth system science and ecology at UC Davis. “Since farming is an incredibly energy-intensive industry, the land sparing sites we identified could provide a win-win situation for both farmers who need more energy and the energy providers that wish to serve them.”

 

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