Solar Park Impacts on Ecosystem Services: a Framework for Best-Practice (SPIES)

Lead Research Organisation: Lancaster University
Department Name: Lancaster Environment Centre

Abstract

Ensuring there is sufficient energy is a global challenge, caused by increasing demand and the need to move to low carbon energy to avoid dangerous climate change. Photovoltaics, including those mounted on buildings and the ground, are predicted to provide a key component of energy in the future, with the recent US Clean Power Plan and policies in China and Japan placing particular emphasis on solar power. Further, solar energy is increasingly cost competitive, with large scale solar park costs now similar to that of conventional energy sources.

Within the UK, 47 % of solar photovoltaics are ground-mounted as solar parks. There has been a shift towards ground-mounted solar parks in countries within 35 degrees of the equator and a shift toward large-scale ground-mounted systems in Europe is anticipated. Solar parks take up a relatively large area of land for the energy they produce compared with conventional sources of energy. Yet, despite the expanding land area occupied by solar parks little is known of the impacts of their construction, physical presence and management on the landscape, or how we can use the opportunities provided by this land use transition to bring additional benefits, such as enhanced green infrastructure and ecological connectivity.

Alongside switching to low carbon energy sources, in the light of growing populations and heightened pressures on resources, it is becoming increasingly recognised that we need to protect our environment, since it provides many goods (e.g. crops) and services (e.g. carbon storage) that contribute to the wellbeing and economic prosperity of society. The increasing land cover of solar parks presents an excellent opportunity to maximise the provisioning of such goods and services, with management options relatively low cost compared with those related to solar park construction. Therefore, this project will develop a decision-support tool to assess the impacts of solar parks, including their construction, physical presence and management, on the goods and services the landscape provides. There are five key components:
1. Synthesis of existing solar park guidelines;
2. Production of a compendium of the beneficial and detrimental effects of solar parks on goods and services supplied by the landscape;
3. Quantification of the change in goods and services over the operational life-time of solar parks;
4. Development of a decision-support tool that promotes the optimal deployment and management of solar parks;
5. Dissemination of the outcomes of the project to the broader solar development community.

There are 11 project partners, covering all solar park stakeholders: Christine Coonick, National Solar Centre; Ed Jessamine, Novus Solar; Nick White, Natural England; Jonathan Scurlock, National Farmers Union; Jon Abbatt, ADAS; Richard Winspear, RSPB; Melanie Dodd, Wiltshire Council; Adam Twine, Colleymore Farm; James Ryle, Good Energy; and Phillip Duncan, Corylus.

The key output from the project is the SPIES (Solar Park Impacts on Ecosystem Services) decision-support tool, which will provide a standardised means of identifying the best way to install and manage solar parks. Thus the tool will be useful for developers, consultees and regulatory agencies and may reduce prolonged and expensive planning applications, which will be beneficial to all parties. The National Solar Centre will help us drive the tool into policy which would lead to a noteworthy sustained contribution to sustainable energy generation and the supply of goods and services from the landscape. Further, given the global proliferation of solar parks and the growing global awareness of the importance of our natural environment, the proposed tool could help to stimulate innovation in business and investment opportunities, and build the UK's reputation as a global leader in solar park deployment.

Keywords: solar parks, low carbon energy, ecosystem services, green infrastructure

Planned Impact

The outputs of this GIIP will be of benefit to all types of solar park stakeholders. While contrasting viewpoints can exist between them, for example planning officers and developers, discussions during the development of this proposal showed that they are all driven by an ethos to ensure sustainable deployment of solar parks (see letters of support). It is not only the project partners that will benefit but all those involved in the solar park industry as the outputs are designed to be applicable across the UK. Further, given the global spread of solar parks and the growing global concern regarding ES, the outputs may also provide a framework for UK solar park stakeholders operating overseas. Further, given the wellbeing and economic prosperity of society is underpinned by ecosystems, the enhanced ES provision at solar parks will be of benefit to society more broadly. In addition to the specific remit of this project, the project partners will also benefit through interactions with each other and further enhance the connectivity between NERC-funded scientists at Lancaster University and the University of York and science end-users (see letters of support).

We anticipate the following outcomes:
1. Enhancement of ES of solar park GI;
2. Positioning of the decision support tool to enable its inclusion into policy;
3. A motivated multi-sector network driven to ensure that solar parks are optimally deployed and managed for the optimal balance of ES;
4. Enhanced connections and transfer of research between NERC-funded scientists and end-users;
5. Positioning of the UK solar industry at the forefront of solar park deployment and management.

The pathway from innovation through to outputs to outcomes is clear for this project and the co-production of the knowledge base and decision support tool by the key players in the solar industry will ensure the outputs are fit for purpose. The calibre, range and enthusiasm of the partners, along with Solar Power Portal (a trusted online solar media outlet, www.solarpowerportal.co.uk) wishing to run a story on the project, demonstrates the critical need for the project and the likelihood of it becoming embedded in practice. The potential for the decision-support tool to be embedded in the planning process is demonstrated by the Scottish Executive-funded wind farm carbon payback calculator (it has to be completed as part of the planning process for every peatland wind farm). BRE, within which the National Solar Centre is embedded, is a strong proponent of embedding decision-making tools within legislation and will help drive the inclusion of the decision-support tool produced in this GIIP into legislation (see letter of support). This would be an outstanding outcome of this project and lead to noteworthy and sustained NERC science impact generation. This, coupled with the anticipated increase in solar parks, will not only drive the success of this project but enable long-term sustainability, future updates and improvements. Involvement of the National Solar Centre and the Solar Trade Association, as advice centres and industry bodies, will facilitate the longevity of the knowledge base and decision-support tool. Further, given the global proliferation of solar parks and the growing global awareness of the importance of our GI, ES and natural capital resources, the proposed tool could help to build the UK's reputation as a leader in solar park deployment across the world. Finally, it will also identify remaining knowledge gaps to allow both the stakeholder and academic community to target future research and innovation efforts.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Title SPIES animation 
Description The animation describes the SPIES project. 
Type Of Art Film/Video/Animation 
Year Produced 2017 
Impact It prompted interested in our research from an overseas company 
URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A6jkGsqmy8k
 
Description We have develop a decision support tool that informs solar park management practices, with the underpinning goal of improving ecosystem service provision. Through doing this we have also found areas for which there is no evidence.
Exploitation Route we hope that our DST will be taken up by the solar park industry
Sectors Energy,Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice

URL http://www.lancaster.ac.uk/spies
 
Description Our findings, specifically the SPIES DST, has been used by an ecological consultant in order to guide management at solar parks. Defra have found the evidence database within the DST a good means of getting up to speed on the impacts of land management impacts on ecosystem services. The Solar Trade Association have used the DST in their Natural Capital Value of Solar report which lead to mention of it in The New Scientist, among other outlets, and a launch in Parliament. An ecological consultant asked 'when are you going to start charging for it', suggesting that it is a useful tool.
Sector Energy,Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Societal,Policy & public services

 
Description Citation in SolarPower Europe Operation and Maintenance Best Practice Guidelines
Geographic Reach Europe 
Policy Influence Type Citation in other policy documents
URL http://www.solarpowereurope.org/om-best-practices-guidelines-3-0/
 
Description Embedded SPIES DST into Wychwood Biodiversity work flow
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
 
Description Featured in STA Natural Capital Value of Solar Report
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Citation in other policy documents
URL https://www.solar-trade.org.uk/about/the-natural-capital-value-of-solar/
 
Description citation in SolarPower Europe O&M Best Practice Guidelines
Geographic Reach Europe 
Policy Influence Type Citation in other policy documents
URL https://www.solarpowereurope.org/om-best-practice-guidelines-version-4-0/
 
Description Impact Fund
Amount £5,000 (GBP)
Organisation Lancaster University 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2016 
End 03/2016
 
Description Innovation Follow on
Amount £125,000 (GBP)
Funding ID NE/R009449/1 
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2018 
End 08/2020
 
Description Researcher Links international workshop
Amount £2,000 (GBP)
Organisation British Council 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 11/2016 
End 11/2016
 
Description Solar park vegetation 
Organisation Clarkson and Woods
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution We are analysing data given to us by the partners and writing up a journal article
Collaborator Contribution The partners gave us use of vegetation survey data from across 80 solar parks within the UK
Impact The paper is still in progress
Start Year 2019
 
Description Solar park vegetation 
Organisation Wychwood Biodiversity
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution We are analysing data given to us by the partners and writing up a journal article
Collaborator Contribution The partners gave us use of vegetation survey data from across 80 solar parks within the UK
Impact The paper is still in progress
Start Year 2019
 
Title Solar Park Impacts on Ecosystem Services Decision Support Tool (SPIES DST) 
Description We (Lancaster University and University of York) have claimed the copyright for the solar park impacts in ecosystem services (SPIES) decision support tool (DST), with SimOmics, the company paid to develop a web-based version of the DST, claiming the copyright for that aspect. 
IP Reference  
Protection Copyrighted (e.g. software)
Year Protection Granted 2018
Licensed No
Impact None as yet
 
Description Article for The Conversation 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact I wrote a piece for The Conversation to encourage interest and heighten awareness of the impacts of renewable energy on the hosting environment. Its been read over 100,000 times since sept 2018, making it the 37th most read article written by a Lancaster Uni employee, and the 3rd most read of those written in the last 6 months by LU staff. It generated over 40 comments. It was picked up 13 published, including the World Economic Forum and Newsweek.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://theconversation.com/massive-solar-and-wind-farms-could-bring-vegetation-back-to-the-sahara-1...
 
Description Business Green article 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Article for Business Green to highlight the need for greater inclusion for environment in the energy transition
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://www.businessgreen.com/opinion/3076609/the-energy-transition-must-have-environmental-enhancem...
 
Description Industry event talk 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Talk at National Solar Centre conference. Undertaken to increase awareness of the SPIES DST and SIRE fellowship research. Potential research connection with a company re short-term solar PV monitoring but uncertain as yet.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Industry event talk 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact A solar Trade Association organised event on solar park land management. I gave a talk on SPIES and fellowship research with the aim of stimulating interest,making future research collaborations, and encouraging uptake of the SPIES DST. This has led to involvement in an STA led Solar Park and Natural Capital Guidance document.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Industry event talk 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact I was on a land management panel at SolarPower Europe's operation and maintenance annual meeting. It was linked to the release of their updated guidelines, for which I contributed a section on natural capital and ecosystem services that mentioned the SPIES DST. We also demonstrated our DST at the event and secured interest from companies to have us test it on their sites
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.solar-trade.org.uk/sta-events/omandassetmanagement2018/
 
Description Industry event talk & panel member 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact I gave a talk and was on a panel at the Energy Now Expo - an event focusing on renewable energy and farming. The purpose was to raise awareness of the SPIES DST and make any potential collaborations for my fellowship research. No known outcomes as yet.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL http://www.energyandruralbusiness.co.uk/
 
Description Industry talk (EPRI) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact About 80 USA based energy industry employees attended the EPRI event. There was much interest in the SPIES tool, Floatovoltaics and techno-ecological synergies and we have had discussions since but as yet no collaboration
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description New Scientist 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The SPIES tool was featured in The New Scientist after release of the Solar Trade Association Natural Capital Value of Solar report
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://www.newscientist.com/article/2207491-solar-farms-could-be-wildlife-havens-that-tackle-biodiv...
 
Description Parliament launch 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact The Solar Trade Association launched their Natural Capital Value of Solar report in Parliament and gave the SPIES team the opportunity to address the audience
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description STA Large Scale Solar Working Group 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Presented the UKERC and solar park carbon calculator research and innovation to an audience who were already aware of NERC SPIES. Much discussion, including around how to integrate it in industry practice. Offers of site access and the opportunity to partake in ESG discussions
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Stakeholder solar park event 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Westmill Sustainable Energy Trust Solar Energy and Biodiversity event with talks from Natoinal Farmers Union, Solar Trade Association, Wychwood Biodiversity, Community Solar Park representatives and others. We present our beta decision support tool and the feedback was very positive and prompted us to apply for the second grant
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Talk 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact I was invited to present at the Solar Media 'Managing European Solar Assets' conference which was attended by all those in the solar industry, including asset managers, operation & maintence companies, those in the financial sector, and developers. The purpose was to highlight the work we were doing. From the event we developed our understanding of the industry and made a connection who became a partner on our subsequent grant
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description discussion with STA 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact We presented our research at the Solar Trade Association Operation and Maintenance Working Group. There was significant interest, it highlighted our work and enabled us to secure them as partners on our next grant which will ultimately help us stimulate uptake of our decision support tool
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description webinar 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact 80 people joined a CIEEM organised webinar that explained how to use the SPIES tool and increased awareness of its existence
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019