How solar panels can save the bees

We all know bees. Anyone who likes flowers in their garden inevitably has to put up with them. I would also sincerely hope that most of you reading this understand their importance to the ecosystem. It has often been said that bees are responsible for one out of every three bites of food we eat. Most crops grown for their fruits (including vegetables such as squash, cucumber, tomato, and eggplant), nuts, seeds, fiber (such as cotton), and hay (alfalfa grown to feed livestock), require pollination by insects.

If you’re someone who’s focused on the future like I am, you’ll likely have heard all those depressing statistics on the state of the planet, one of them being the decline in population of bees as well as other pollinators because of land development destroying habitats, large-scale use of pesticides and the ever-present effects of climate change.

But I like to consider myself an optimist, as anyone who is interested in the future pretty much needs to be. Lots of research has gone into finding direct solutions to supporting the declining pollinator population.

The use of solar panels for energy generations is crucial in the fight against climate change, but it might just be that they will help the environment in more ways than one. Killing two birds with one sun, as it were.

Land use is important when setting up solar farms. Some areas are better suited than others; naturally you would want them in a place that gets plenty of sunlight on a consistent basis. But as of recent, solar panels are beginning to see use in a more unexpected way, one that can help our pollinating friends.

Solar panel installations can provide new habitats for bees. The spaces between and around solar panels can offer sheltered areas for nesting and protection from predators. This is particularly beneficial in areas where natural habitats have been lost or degraded due to human development.

If properly sited, habitat-friendly solar energy can be a feasible way to safeguard insect populations and can improve the pollination services in adjacent agricultural fields. This is what’s being referred to as a “solar pollinator”.

“Solar pollinators” refers to a concept where solar energy infrastructure, particularly solar panels, is combined with pollinator-friendly habitats. This integration aims to maximize land use efficiency by allowing compatible land uses, such as agriculture or pollinator habitat, to coexist with solar energy generation.

Research findings suggest two important implications of habitat-friendly solar energy. One is that habitat-friendly solar sites can play an important role in conserving biodiversity. Large amounts of ground-mounted solar is expected to be developed in the future, but if properly sited, habitat-friendly solar can offset the losses of natural areas to provide biodiversity benefits.

Solar farms can incorporate pollinator-friendly plantings beneath and around the panels. These plantings include native flowers, grasses, and other vegetation that provide food and habitat for bees and other pollinators. This helps to create a more biodiverse environment compared to traditional solar installations, which are often built on barren land. This naturally helps to attracts these pollinators, encouraging biodiversity around the area.

In the case of South Africa, solar pollinators can be an especially great service, seeing as we possess some the most unique and beautiful flora in the world and will likely be an essential tool in maintaining the country’s biodiversity.

I find myself very endeared to this whole concept. The image of wildlife springing up and flourishing around our technology, living in harmony, handily encapsulates what I hope for the future. It shows that with one small shift in our relationship with the environment and our energy needs, my generation will inherit a much greener and livelier Earth.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Stawie is a tech-loving young optimist, intrigued by the mysteries of what lies ahead.

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