How ecology can increase solar farm efficiency and support wildlife

Connexus Energy of Minnesota and the National Renewable Energy Lab are collaborating to explore solar farms, planted with prairie grasses and wildflowers to encourage pollinators and increase energy efficiency.

Connexus Energy of Minnesota and the National Renewable Energy Lab are collaborating to explore solar farms, planted with prairie grasses and wildflowers to encourage pollinators and increase energy efficiency.

By combining renewable energy production with a sustainable ecosystem that supports the flowers and wildlife, the benefits compound.

The plants improve soil quality and provide an organic habitat for bees and butterflies, essential pollinators for the nearby farm that produces pumpkins and melons. Another company, Bare Honey, has established bee hives on the site in Ramsey to produce honey.

Beyond the ecological benefits, the researchers hypothesise that the vegetation retains moisture and creates a microclimate that can cool the solar panels to increase their efficiency, allowing them to extract more energy.

Unlike traditional energy production that was seen as incompatible with environmental sustainability, projects like the Ramsey wind farm establish a new normal where energy production and ecology not only co-exist, but thrive.

During peak sunlight, the solar energy is cheaper than than supplied by the grid and batteries provide low-cost electricity during peak times.

During the community planting event, Connexus CEO Greg Ridderbusch said…

“We all know we need to get to higher and higher levels of carbon-free electricity on the grid so our strategy is if we can find projects that will both save us money and green the electricity that we’re adding to the grid, those are good projects.”

Sources and further reading:
Bees, Butterflies, & Solar Panels Learn To Share The Land In Minnesota (Cleantechnica)

Connexus Energy is a member-owned electric cooperative serving 130000 residential and commercial members.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) works on creative answers to today’s energy challenges, from breakthroughs in fundamental science to new clean technologies to integrated energy systems that transform the way we use energy.

Image: Connexus Energy

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